Matt Vadnais






The Living: [1] [2] [3]

A New Manifesto: [4] [5] [6] [7]

A New Manifesto

We are in Tito's van, heading west.
      Traveling always impresses me — distance is comforting.
      Even if there is no real difference between places, the affectation of being local is only possible because of distance. It is one reason I distrust the box. I appreciate the magic of teleportation, but there is a romance to the in-between.
      It is good to drive.
      Soon, we are far enough away from anyone that the natural world becomes accessible. Tito asks to take the next exit. Wellbutrin does. We drive along the county road for a few blocks, until it comes to a T. Both directions are gravel. We stop. There is no brook, no grove of trees, no animals. One direction is a wheat field, the other black, freshly tilled soil. It is the natural world at its most commonplace and cultivated, but we all leave the van.
      When Wellbutrin and Tito walk along gravel road, talking in tones I can't hear, I decide to set out by myself.
      The air smells good.
      The field is inviting, full of light.
      It takes a while, several minutes, but eventually I am deep enough that the way I came is identical to every other direction. I am completely alone. No one can hear me shout. I run my hands through the wheat. I lie down to trace cloud shapes. Every few minutes, the sky feels like a new sky.
The ground is damp. The sun is hot on my cheeks, on the skin of my nose, in the phantom firings of my missing fingers. I hear insects and feel something crawling near my sock.
It occurs to me that, if I were watching the clouds on the box, I would be more comfortable, air conditioned in a lumbar-friendly chair. Still, I don't move for the insects, don't wipe sweat from my forehead, don't get up until I imagine the others waiting.

When I get back to the van, Tito and Wellbutrin are already there. Tito is looking for something on the ground. Wellbutrin has his shirt off. He was stung by a bee, on his chest.
      "We were dancing," he says.
      The sting is puffy and pink, the shape of comma. I poke it with a thumb and he flinches. Tito finds a small rock. With it and a finger nail he goes to work, trying to remove the stinger.
      "Got to get it out," he says. "Revolution of pus."
      "That's not funny," Wellbutrin says.
      He is shaking, his shoulders pale and round. He does not make eye contact with either of us until Tito has finished and his shirt buttoned.
      "I'll drive again," he says.
      Back on the road, Tito sings union songs, playing a banjo from behind us. I have my hand out the window. As we glide along the paved strings between one here and the next, the wind pushes at me.
      I can feel the space we move through.
      When Wellbutrin asks me to close the window so he can hear Tito playing, the afternoon is reduced to a picture of itself.

The Browder place is good-sized, two stories.
      Tito finds a key in a hollow fixture outside.
      As soon as he opens the door, it is clear that he must have offered a lot of money, enough that who ever was living here was willing to leave in a hurry. There are more signs of occupancy than there are to the contrary. The floors are hardwood, recently waxed. There are pictures on the walls, furniture in the rooms. There are bowls for pet food, labeled Buffy and JoJo. The bathroom is decorated with sailboats and pictures of kittens. There is food in the refrigerator, a diploma on the wall of the third bedroom.
      "We own this place?"
      "Yeah," says Tito. I can't tell if he is annoyed. He wants to get the cameras up tonight, so we have plenty of time for the write-up in the morning. He obviously notices all of the consumer trappings, but does his best to seem unperturbed.
      "We start in a child's bedroom," he says heading upstairs.
      Wellbutrin and I follow him. The room he leads us to is blue, covered with basketball players. The wallpaper is Nike.
      "Nothing gets touched," says Wellbutrin.
      "We can't do it like this," Tito says. He sits on the bed.
      "Rules," Wellbutrin says. "Boundaries."
      "This was to be a stronghold," Tito says. "The place where our mantra becomes crystallized, a blowtorch in the hands of the people. It can't be a commercial for tennis shoes."
      "I'm not a revolution."
      "I am."
      "You said American Marxism was sly capitalism."
      "This isn't sly."
      "Than you need to show it, and hope the people react the same way you did. They need to want to take the posters from the wall."
      "This one is mine," he says, running his hand along the wall, picking gently at a corner of one of the posters. "This is my important man."
      "Then let him go as he's been left," says Wellbutrin.
      "They weren't relatives."
      "The space is the space."
      "The space is cluttered. Not the space at all." He is on the edge of the bed, his body limp. His words seem to fall out of him. "This clutter, this stuff, is the mask, the static, the blindfold that must be lifted."
      Wellbutrin sits down, next to Tito. He pulls Tito into his chest, running his hand through Tito's hair. He looks up at me, thoughtful and scared.
      "If we move one thing, what's to stop us?"
      "Maybe we don't need to be stopped," Tito says.
      "It's a temptation," I say. "If we do it in the right spirit."
      Tito hasn't moved. His head is still in Wellbutrin's armpit.
      Despite being wrapped into each other, and keeping the discussion entirely theoretical, the atmosphere is that of a lovers' spat, like it could easily turn into who always does what, who never makes time, who is emotionally schizophrenic.
      "I can go either way," I say, before leaving them to figure it out.

I explore the bedrooms before ending up in what must have been the kids' bathroom. It connects to two rooms. Tito and Wellbutrin are on the other side of one of the doors, but I can't hear anything. After peeing and washing my hands, I look through the drawers. There are bottles of expired antibiotics in one, toothpaste and floss in another.
      Next to the sink there are two sonic toothbrushes, plugged in, their on-buttons glowing.
      I want to try.
      The toothpaste has a flip top and tastes like licorice.
      Sound is supposed to remove the plaque — it hums loudly — but the brush shakes so hard that I have to use two hands. If it hits a tooth with anything other than the bristles, the noise rattles my mouth. It doesn't hurt exactly, though all the vibrating is making my missing fingers ache nostalgically.
      The brush is used, of course, and I hope I don't have to explain myself to Tito or Wellbutrin. I'm not afraid of germs, though it's interesting to contemplate what might be on the brush.
      I imagine a six year old girl, dark hair like mine. She likes to wear necklaces made of candy. She collects frog stickers. She likes to wear yellow. Until recently, she brushed her teeth every night, in this mirror. When she listens to music, she thinks the bands actually live in the CD. She thinks that Muppets are real because she has seen them eat.
      None of the rooms in this house have been decorated for her, but I can believe that I am using her toothbrush. It is easy to see her in the mirror, the exaggerated way she opens her mouth. I can hear her humming along with the toothbrush, the way I am now.

When I finish, I move to the living room and wait for the others. Some time later, they come down. It is clear that Wellbutrin has conceded, but that neither he nor Tito knows exactly what the concession is. Though I said I was neutral, and thought I was, I think we are making the right choice.
      "We need boxes," Tito says.
      It takes a few minutes, but we find several flattened and shelved in a supply room off the attached garage. Wellbutrin and I struggle to put them together. Immediately, Tito takes three and heads back into the house. Without fingers, I am better suited to hold flaps in place while Wellbutrin uses tape to make things sturdy.
      "Will ten do?" he asks.
      "I really don't know," I say.
      "This is just cleaning, right?"
      We are both squatting on the concrete, leaning together, over a now-finished box. This close, his eyes are a slightly different color. I expect to find sadness in his face, and it's there, but there's another quality too, an anxiousness, like we're trying to get away with something. I can feel it too.
      "We should help him," he says.
      "We should," I say, but we don't get up, and the moment changes.
      We linger, our faces close enough that I can smell his breathing, a little sour, but not unpleasant. I put my hand on his soft chin and smile weakly. He touches my hand with his own.
      The contact is conspiratorial. Looking at him looking at me, I become aware — or see clearly — that Tito's absence is not merely a function of his not being here. He is working at a different speed, for different reasons, than Wellbutrin and I are. He probably has been for some time. Maybe all along.
      He doesn't need us.
      When we get up, Wellbutrin and Tito will continue to be what they have always been. They will touch, and probably go to bed together. But I know now that Wellbutrin and I share something — a curiosity, a fear, a dependency — that Tito moves too fast to understand.

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