David Berg-Seiter


I dipped my head in a tub of Eastern religiosity, bobbed for something I could sink my teeth into, and after awhile came up with something of a hybrid, towards the popular end of the spectrum but not too popular. Shortly thereafter, I began to realize that all my successes in the world were greatly exaggerated and amounted, in the end, to about half of what they'd been publicly purported to be. To balance things out a little, I set about working to ensure that my current endeavors would be recognized half failures, or, no better than half-successes. That's how I was looking at it, anyway. I was being positive.
      I started by making a to-do list, items ledgered in no order apparent to me.
      —Using a straw broom, take 20 swipes at 40-swipe floor.
      —Call Mother the day after her birthday. Wish her the best six months of her life.
      —Buy an Italian pastry for my downstairs neighbor. Eat it with him. Don't refrain from bringing up the noise.
      —etc. etc.
      I wasn't sure where to stop in the making of my list. Was I to list half the things I wanted to do fully or all of the things I wanted to do halfly? Even the things I had outlined to do halfly—was I to carry through with conviction?
      I turned monkish in my dilemma and abandoned it soon after, upon encountering a man in a window dressing a fake woman without thigh separation. I found these people, the fact of their existence and the assumed necessity of their behavior, the jabbing, and their physical contours over time, inappropriate and depressing, and I took haven in the safety administration of a transport outfit in the Northwest Territories. My charges there—well-pressured, inoculated men—drove 36-wheelers with massive empty tanks on their beds across a chain of frozen lakes. There was an inevitable and attractive success-failure ratio to the occupation. Such weight on water. I was sure to lose a few, no way around it. The combination of that multi-tasked fragility and the essential, gritty telos of the industry proved irresistible.
      I arrived.
      The place was so cold it was dry. I went through Oil of Olay like some people go through credit applications, slathering it about my person to the point of slipping about in my own shoes and spraining myself. As a Safety Admin out to get his yang sized up proportionally with his yin, this was pure gravy.
      A woman with the company had worked herself into the position of a dispatcher, which was no small feat where there were no roads involved. Dispatching wasn't something she'd aspired to do, but she had an uncanny knack for navigating and co-coordinating, for sending the boys off in the right direction and calling them back in like a mothering hen of an air-traffic controller—something that the conditions under which we did business up there required. Her trick was to view the mapless network of strung-about lakes and bermed-up strips of crusty snowpack as a nervous whole—a beautiful systemic constellation of amniotic petrifications—and then to see it anew again each day. Upon the discovery of her talent, there could be no other candidate. She was conscripted to her vision.
      Day one the woman viewed her domain as smears of dried Wite-Out on a badly prepared resume. (She must have felt her assignment a mistake). Day two she saw splatters of gray paint on a duotone Pollack. Day three: water-rotted ceiling tiles in a jumble on the concrete floor. Then cocained mirrors smeared by shaky fingers. A wide expanse of porcelain sinks dotted with toothpaste deposits. Light bulbs and hard-boiled eggs scattered on a bed of cotton. Cups and saucers of fine china connected by sun-bleached cow bones. A crumbled disarray of Venus De Milos. A tangle of hospital sheets. A rosary of navy beans and high-grade fishing line, and then, in opposition, anal beads of blue translucent rubber in progressive sizes and gaps. Clouds in an autumn sky. Fried eggs in a pan with butter drizzling itself in between. Comatose amoebas under a sterilized microscope. Kidney-shaped swimming pools in La Jolla threaded by deliberately, falsely, meandering sidewalk. Spilled milk on groovy patterned linoleum. Mayonnaise squeezed, splattered, spread on toast. Clotty cellulite upon bony hip. Sperm absently sprayed on the wrinkled and made-up face of a whore. Stars so close up that the black recedes to natty bits of yarn.
      Sometimes she envisioned her freighty workland simply and abstractly as dusty, snowy ice tablets in high relief.
      And so I saw the woman as a series of women never requiring a totality, a bundle of separations approaching womanhood. Her orbiting, oscillating essence rendered impossible my ever knowing her fully, and this was a freeing and goosebumpy realization for me.
      I had pitied her originally, but now I began to envy her. My own duties revolved around clipboards of papered torsion-stress figures and prosaic echo characteristics of certain ice densities printed in reds and greens to help clarify the dicey yes/no, stop/go decisions I had to make, but she'd been the passenger of one of her fleetmen at the time of her discovering. She had nothing to do but huff into her hands as she looked out the windshield toward the opposite bank and the narrow of flattened snow that served as ramp and road on the other side—their goal—while she listened to the progressive Dopplery crackling beneath the rig. I coveted those seconds. I wanted at the fact that she had heard the big rushing progression of shattering sound without breakage. After some nerving around about it, I approached the woman, offering her the services of my Oil of Olay. She accepted and we lolled about, slipping off one another like hobos off the train. The crackling sound amounts to nothing, she told me after, but that's not something that is easy to learn.
      Things went on for a while like that, a mounting slip and a recursive, tummy-tickling slide, the vividness in her head raising up a clackety electricity in mine until one pink-laden evening: the lotion, the sun stuck in perpetual sunset, some candy, some genitals. There was fire in us, or in the room. For months the world had masqueraded as an effortless place and I was day-by-day losing grip on my doubts that it could function that way without ill effect. In the heat I crisscrossed my ankles into the crooks of her arches, where usually her soles pressed up, and let my head roll into the flamy hue of the room. The woman ruffled my eyebrows into an Einsteinian shag, and told me that I was looking increasingly youthful, as if I was returning into myself, successful, encolleged or encollagenated.
      It was about that time—that night or the moment of my remembering that night—that I decided those territories weren't dry at all but that the air was so cold it had an increased capacity to hold something. A certain atmospheric gas maybe or perhaps water of such fine quality and contiguous arrangement that it was the exact opposite of fog—a glass maybe, a continually receding magnifying lens to be walked through and enlarged by. Things in such a super saturation drew clearer, and I could tell that I was no longer capable of halfsies, no matter how I tried.



Two details of this fiction are facts from a television documentary. Trucks do carry cargo over frozen lakes in the far North (detail #1). The ice buckles, usually without breaking, in a wave before the front tires and it causes, by all accounts, an unnerving splintery roar (detail #2). What started out as a frame around those beauties became more of a crossword puzzle; I dropped in other facts that became at least as important and coaxed them all to intersect and share their letters in congenial and productive ways.