Sign Running Out of Breath at the Edge of Town
The Fuller Brush man knocked but not the way he used to. When Luly got to the door, he was nowhere in sight, and his brushes had all been pounded flat into a set of yellow hearts like old valentines dropped on the stoop.
Outside everything was squeezed shut, so there was not much left but us signs. And we were everywhere:
GOT INCONTINENCE? CALL BILLY BOB!
MILITARY CREAMERIES: NOT YOUR EVERY DAY JOB!
WAIT FOR THE MACKEREL!
RING OUT FOR HAND-BELLS!
If only the Mackerels had been biting, or a few well-turned hands were at the ready (and which of the billboards was Billy Bob?) it would have given me something to believe in. But what part of the instructions was I? There were so many of us, and from a great distance as from very near, we all seemed curiously the same.
Then there was also the issue of who wrote me. Perhaps I had been carved out with one of the hundreds of pinking sheers that poked from the ground, obviously waiting to finish someone off in this world more cut-out than countryside.
I unfolded myself like origami in reverse, until I was a parchment of emergency procedures rather difficult to read. But I’m less complex than you’d think, like the cow’s eye Luly dissected at the science fair last year. Its pupil was a hard rubber bowl that seemed too full to open, but when she finally did there was only one large room with nothing but the blank page of its walls.
The Ceiling Fan Has Been Waiting a Long Time to Tell of This
Luly knows this is not her house, or rather she is not the house’s. Although the moldings have been redone in a rich wood stain, they keep their mouths shut, want nothing to do with her. The appliances stand apart and whir quietly in conspiratorial huddles.
Luly squeezes through the narrow passage between stove and dishwasher—inches toward the spiral stairway (finished in a cozy cedar). She thinks things will be clearer above ground and blinks at the second floor. Her mouth opens and closes like a broken garbage disposal.
The steps are flimsy and bent as if they weren’t made to ascend, but there’s a single footprint indentation in each. The stairs wait.
On top of the lowest balustrade, like a tiny guard, a toy yellow cement truck spins its belly and smiles. The reliable square jaws shout, What is it you want? over the grunt-grind of its churn. Is this an illusion or a long lost loved one? Luly says, then mouths her multiplication tables up at me.
As she places one foot inside the first depression it is like the time she saw bluebirds forming a tessellation above the horizon. She thought she was seeing the sky that time, too.
Luly Dreams She is a Tongue and Hisses Like a Snake in her Sleep
“Can you tell me the way Middle Mope, if you pleassse?
Where there isss no transss-fatsss and all the roadsss pointssss in reasssonable directionsss. But which onesss? The roadsss could lead anywhere but inssstead arrange themssselvesss like a four way ssstop. I ssslurp into a sssmall notebook the hue of yessserday’sss water—the shade of thisss town: a placcce where everybody ssstops to go to the bathroom then forgetssss to go home. Should I go home?
I arrive at a cccement colored conssstruction. The front wallsss half bend over and fold into themssselvesss, with a roof like a cressscccent moon. Or a hook—more like a wind-up toy than a houssse. Am I making a terrible missstake? Sssomewhere underneath, a motor humsss. I drool through my notesss. Aha. The houssse is Luly’sss, but the unit balancccesss at a transssverssse elevation. I take a tour jussst to be sure.
There are eighty-ssseven partsss. Each part isss ssself-contained yet ssstructurally dependent on the othersss, even though no sssectionsss interconnect. Sssome componentsss are cccirclesss, sssome sssquaresss, othersss rectangular roomsss or oblong cabinetsss. Not sure if the compartmentsss are two or three-dimensional, but on top of each isss an octagonal tower like a ssskinny Keep. Running along the length and above the ssstructure isss a gray pipe. It isss thirty feet long and three feet in diameter and doesss not connect to the main houssse but touchesss the ground on both endsss, ssso that it looksss like a huge upssside down U, or a sssteely rainbow.
Thisss mussst be my bedroom.
I crawl inssside and memoriesss fall around like dead fliesss. I inch along the interior that sssmellsss of old breathsss. I dodge the insssectsss that crunch underneath Luly’sss kneesss. I roll and blob. The openingsss are closssing—the light sssqueezesss to dashesss in front and behind. The tunnel thickensss to black—I remember that the endsss of the tubesss were alwaysss sssealed tight—lovely on a cold winter’sss night, but what did exactly Luly and I for all thossse yearsss? A few persssistent wingsss beat madly against Luly’sss brain: sssensory deprivation reducesss the cccentral nervousss sssystem’sss workload by 90 percccent. I recccede to ash-sssmallnesss. The grainy nature of the atmosssphere further shrinksss the ssseparation between the ssskin and the sssurroundingsss ssso that the body ssseemsss to gradually disssssssssssssssssssssssssss"
in the limelight.
A body sinks into a chalky green hole about five feet from Luly’s lips lying like a fat rubber band six inches from a king, who casually wipes his sword against his left thigh. He looks at the lips, sighs, says he’s just about killed the last of them. Luly’s lips want to ask who they are, but the king’s glaring right now and licking blood off the blade. His nose wiggles in the lips’ direction, but the air is suddenly filled with voices, and this is distracting enough for him salivate towards a small wooded area, several yards away. Off he goes, the hilt of his sword held flat against his forehead, the blade rising like an exclamation mark.
What do you want? a woman’s voice whispers, but it’s unclear whether the question is posed to Luly’s lips, the king (leaping around a large bush) or the disappearing dead body. A squeaky shriek, perhaps that of a boy, moans about the loss of a foot or hand or some other unessential part of itself, while a lilting voice unconvincingly interprets the eerie emerald fog settling around all of them.
Invisible bodies (ghostly casualties?) press like hefty wads of fabric. It’s as if they’re pushing and pulling at the same time, and so the lips wonder about gravity, about the effect one body has on another. And what about the magnetic field or even the electromagnetic field around between and through all the lips of all the bodies? Dead or otherwise? God knows what treacheries those fields are performing! Maybe that’s what the king was talking about. Perhaps he’s just trying to save them from each other? But before this thought can blossom to fruition, the ground loosens to a fine granule.
A thin line of silver flashes, as calcium oxides slowly begin oozing. It’s clear what needs to be done. While pretending to ignore that they themselves are dissolving—the lips tighten to a thin wire and strike a match. For a single unmovable moment, they will all be
Carved in a Lovely Script in the Last Bench in the Last Park across from the Last Housing Development
The crane sits still, its long cables drifting gently in the afternoon breeze. All lines have been ripped free of their load except the one thin wire that still clutches onto a silver ladder, sparkling in the morning light.
A series of dump trucks waits patiently behind, while the crane begins to teeter between the edge s of steel gridirons to the sides and a concrete pit in front (which is actually not concrete at all, but a fine aggregate).
The head of the crane says nothing as it sways in a regular rhythm that doesn’t increase in tempo but in intensity, until it looks like a large awkward pendulum. Sensing something is amiss, the trucks inch back slowly, as the crane looks around, creaking its corrugated mouth and wondering what to do, now that only the ladder is left.
The crane has the odd sensation that it should break free of this last burden, but it has one question (the only question it remembers ever having had) as the last of the trucks shrink away into the far corner of day: Should it let go of its prize and become a rusted monument to space and time—or follow the ladder into the coreless-breathless density of (of)?