REAL-TIME VIDEO OF DEAD PEOPLE YOU WANT TO HAVE COFFEE
WITH: A NOVELLA
(SERIALIZED AND BROKEN UP INTO SECTIONS FOR YOUR
READING PLEASURE, AS DENOTED BELOW)
Prologues and Stars: 
Ghostboy Dies in Tragic Mishap: 
TO BE CONTINUED IN DIAGRAM 5.1
"Come on," Tito says to the box, "go
back outside." He is a small man, too small for his thinking —
his body seems to flap in the steam of his ideas. He rocks in his chair,
kicking his feet in a lopsided rhythm. He pulls at an ear with one hand
while the other plays with the zipper of his red sweatshirt. The cameras
switch back and forth automatically, randomly, but he obviously has his
favorites. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," he says when the meteors
come back on-screen. "Choke on the fatty cords of your forgetting."
He is speaking to America again. He
is a Marxist, though he swears it's several prefixes more complicated
than that. His part in our undertaking is strictly political. For him,
the images — the empty house, Stafford's former property —
all of it is a revolution of memory. He says that memory is a petri dish
for love cells. He says that consumerism is the religion of amnesia. He
says that by sending this footage into your home — even if you aren't
watching —the three of us are the supernova remedy to the twenty-first
century, a madcap antidote to a madcap poison.
Wellbutrin is taller than Tito, and heavier. For him,
our purpose in these houses is educational. We are in the business of
exhumation and re-animation, bringing an author's work to contemporary
life by providing the context of his or her living.
When we finish the thirty-six hour
broadcast — all of the houses get a day and a half — he will
write an essay, posted on the website. He has explained to us, several
times, what he will say about Stafford. He will talk about plain language,
words as small and versatile as linguistic atoms or DNA, words as simple
As soon as the meteors started, Wellbutrin
gave another lecture, this time about a single poem. In the poem, a star
hits California, in the hills behind Stafford's house. The rock is shown
over television, and roped-off, available for viewing during business
hours. When Stafford goes to investigate, he is told classified information
by a security guard. He begins to wonder what it would take to be the
guard, to have his job. The guard explains that, among other things, one
must swear allegiance to the state of California. Stafford resists, holding
out the possibility that, if a star were bigger than the state, he might
swear allegiance to it instead.
Eventually, Stafford agrees to remain
loyal to California.
In his lecture, Wellbutrin made it
clear that Stafford was bullied. He said the poem was about the unknown,
about the difference between you and me, about uncertain futures mitigated
by the state.
Though I thought it was all a little
too close, the last part caught Tito's attention and, together, he and
Wellbutrin rallied around their respective, abstract ideas of our project,
equal parts revolution and junior-high field trip.
In textbooks, history is a garage sale, a gaudy collection
of half-broken toys and funny clothes that couldn't possibly fit anymore.
We put it on acid free paper. We want it to be preserved, embalmed, restored.
We film costume dramas and dramatic
reenactments. Every year several thousand people dressed in historically
accurate Civil War uniforms rush down hills and across fields, in the
same formations used by running men a hundred and fifty years ago.
With no one dying, the war is a lot
I think that what we're doing here is simple.
We're giving you a lengthy glimpse
inside houses where the once-famous were once alive.
We're looking for ghosts.
Stare long enough and any place is
To be honest, I don't really care
about the specifics of these houses. My interest in the past is about
proof that it existed at all. I've never had memories of grandparents.
I can't imagine my own parents as having been children, because I never
really saw them age. Part of me still has a hard time believing that Shakespeare
wasn't my seventh grade English teacher making it up, writing the next
scene while we were playing on the tornado slide. Even my own childhood
seems like a fabrication.
None of this should matter, but I
am afraid of death.
I remember how it started. There was
a time when I wasn't scared, and then suddenly, irrevocably, I was. I
was six when it happened. I was still Theresa. I didn't start acting for
another year. My parents were alive for another four.
At school, I learned the sun would
swallow the earth in several hundred thousand years — I don't remember
how long — right before its own death. Even though I knew I would
be gone long before the sun exploded, the image of it expanding, swallowing
the earth in fire, and then receding into blackness, provided the cinematography
for my first nightmares.
Soon after, I discovered the Big Bang.
I was every bit as frightened by a sudden beginning as I was by a quicksand
end. Instant history was as scary as the final, vanishing chapter.
I am here, in these houses, because
I want proof of a back-story. I want prologues, not just for our subjects
but for all of us. I want evidence that Tito has been a gazelle, a thousand
butterflies. I want to know that Wellbutrin has taken handfuls of water
from every river in Austria, dug for silver in mines that have been closed
a hundred years. I want a trap door before conception, a three-act play
on the other side of the opening stage directions.
I see the meteors and I want to know
where they came from, what they were before our atmosphere. Watching them,
it occurs to me that even with different histories, they fall the same
One after the next, they become stories about fire.
I don't know if it is psychosomatic, or if I'm allergic
to the room, or if I just forgot how to breathe, but I am coughing. I
try to steady, but I suck in more dust — I can see it puff in and
out of my mouth and nose. I cough harder. I feel my lungs heaving, heavy
with the gritty air. My hands push against Tito and Wellbutrin so that
I won't lose my balance. I stagger and sway.
Eventually, when I don't stop, the
others have to turn to me. For almost a minute they look startled and
uncertain, unprepared for dealing with my physical body. Tito gets a bottle
of water to my lips. I try to swallow, but my tongue is arid, and I am
still hacking. Most of the drink spits into the air. Tito doesn't give
up, trying in vain to keep it close to my mouth. He is persistent but
easily spooked, like he's poking a stick at something poisonous.
When the coughing finally subsides,
my shirt is completely wet. Without a change of clothes in the pantry,
there is nothing to do but take the bottle of water between my hands and
sit down. Tito and Wellbutrin immediately turn back to the box.
The camera switches.
I watch the old rock, the new, new
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