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)
THIS IS PART TWO.
PART ONE APPEARED IN DIAGRAM
4.6; PART THREE WILL APPEAR IN DIAGRAM 5.2.
The Living: 
A New Manifesto: 
  
things — trophies, canned goods, all of it — in boxes brings
about a different kind of contact with the house than I have experienced
so far. More than Tito and Wellbutrin, I have poked around the places
we have owned. But, other than when Wellbutrin has made meals, none of
us has interacted with the houses as functional spaces. Even camera installation
has treated the houses as dead, empty rooms.
We have not had to make room for things,
look under beds, or gather loose items from corners and closets. I feel
like I understand the wrinkles and limitations of this space in a way
that, with the first properties, I was only guessing.
Wellbutrin is working like I am, paying
as much attention to the house as he is to the items he gathers.
When he looks at me, he smiles. When he looks at Tito, he seems on the
brink of saying something.
Tito isn't bothering to find places to
stow the goods, content for now to fill boxes, one after the next. There
is an efficiency in his movements, as if his mind and his body are finally
working at the same blistering pace. He is graceful. He jumps to take
things off of a shelf that should be too tall for him. He balances an
armload and pivots to his box. When it is more convenient, he throws,
"Boyfriend," says Wellbutrin.
Tito doesn't stop. If he listens, or disapproves
of Wellbutrin's timing, he doesn't give any indication. Still, he is working
hard enough that it seems lazy to be talking at all.
"Mickey Fundus," I say. I wait
for a wisecrack, but most of the jokes in the old boyfriend game come
from Tito. Wellbutrin puts a couple of board games into his box sideways,
so they stick out of the top. He is chewing on the syllables of the name,
as if I had recommended a chiropractor.
"He was in acupuncture," I say.
"When I was shooting The Last Train Leaves Early, I sprained my ankle.
He was called in to get the swelling down. He figured out the gender stuff
when one of the needles needed to go into my knee. He said I had girls'
knees. I asked him out, and we went to a drive-through. A space movie.
Our only date."
I wait for anyone of a number of jokes
but none come. Tito is taking down a gaudy clock. Wellbutrin is looking
in his box, deep in imagining.
Eventually, we have enough boxes that they are in the
way. Tito isn't willing to give up another room to storage. He and Wellbutrin
have moved the furniture to the supply room off the garage. He wants the
house to seem big and complicated, lots of nuance, completely empty.
For a while, Tito tries to find ways to
hide the boxes, one or two at a time, in rooms we will be shooting. He
looks for off-camera corners and closets we can afford to keep closed.
Wellbutrin and I are willing to help, but Tito doesn't let us know how.
He paces and flexes his hands. Occasionally he hops up and down, as if
he were trying to keep his feet warm.
"Think," he says.
It occurs to me that he has not said a
single incomprehensible thing since the decision was made. Watching him
rub his chin, he strikes me as an alternate version of himself. Even as
pulls at one ear while fiddling with the zipper of his sweatshirt, something
he always does, he seems different. I wonder if his mood — this
solitude and purpose — is completely new for him, or if this was
what he was like before us.
He exhales loudly, self-consciously, shaming
us for not thinking as hard as he is.
Eventually he gives up and decides we will
have to keep the boxes with us. He picks up two boxes and heads for the
Nike bedroom, where we will be staying during the broadcast.
Wellbutrin and I follow, one box each.
Tito does not wait. Before we have dropped our stuff, he is going back
downstairs for more, despite the fact that we have boxes in every room.
I'm not sure they will all fit, but Tito moves so fast that questions
would be mutiny. Wellbutrin and I, in unspoken consensus, stick to fetching
boxes on the same floor as the bedroom.
Without fingers, my hands are unsteady.
My boxes need to be light. It is hard to tell, just looking, if I will
be able to manage. It's not a question of strength but of leverage. I
can get most of them into the air, before they begin to topple one way
or the other, and Wellbutrin needs to lurch over and help me get them
"Boyfriend," he says, the third
or fourth time I pick up the same, awkward box. "One from after the
accident," he says. I smile at him, as I try a new box and manage
to keep it from tipping.
"How do you know I'm not out of those?"
"You're never out," he says.
"I'd rather tell you about Squid Lawson,"
I say, starting toward the bedroom. "He played hockey, goalie, for
a men's team in Kentucky. His real name was Jay. If they didn't call him
Squid, they called him Kentucky Jay. He was only sixteen, they were all
thirty. They were the only team he could play for, the only team in Louisville.
I met them all shooting Stranger Death. Something about how he
played, how reckless he was, I don't know. We never had sex, but we kissed
a lot, ate lunch together for several weeks. I'm not positive he was straight."
We go back and forth, piling up boxes,
along the wall. I hand them to Wellbutrin so he can get them high, but
the boxes don't stack well, odds and ends sticking out.
I am not sure what will happen to all of
it when we sell the place.
I imagine the family, the girl with black
I know they gathered everything they thought
they would regret leaving, that they have enough money — thanks
to Tito — to replace the rest. But there is the diploma, the trophies,
several books of photos. Surely, we have as many of their keepsakes as
they do. I wonder if they will regret leaving so fast, if they will buy
new evidence of their past, try to replace ribbons from first-grade wrestling
When the boxes have all been gathered, we barely have
enough space left to set up the computer. Luckily, the bedroom is attached
to the bathroom so Tito's toilet stays in the van. When we start broadcasting,
we will share the bed.
For now, I am trying to sleep in it.
It is far more comfortable than my bedroll,
but it could be softer.
I'm not sure what's happening in the room
next to mine.
I only have lurid conjecture. Noises and
After we finally got the cameras installed,
Tito finally stopped pacing. For the first time all night, he could see
us again, especially Wellbutrin — he stared at him, at the loose
form of his body. For his part, Wellbutrin seemed eager to accept whatever
Tito was offering.
I don't hear them all the time, just an
occasional thump and giggle. If these were not my last hours alone for
almost two days, I would consider investigating. I would fetch something
from the kitchen before creeping up to their door.
As it is, I am more interested in myself.
For a while, when I lost the fingers, I
I became less interested in other bodies,
more compelled by the details of my own.
Tonight, I imagine floating on a sea of
I wake up to Tito rummaging through boxes at the foot
of my bed.
"Morning," he says, smiling.
He is no less efficient than last night, but he is somehow less aggressive.
He picks up items, one after the next. Most end up back in boxes.
Though there is less of a path to the door
than there was before I fell asleep, I am able to get to the bathroom
where I wash my face with soap and use the black-haired girl's toothbrush.
She is in the back seat of a car, running her tongue over her teeth. She
is unused to them feeling filmy, so slick. She uses a hand to smell her
breath. She is half-disgusted, ashamed that it is coming from her mouth,
but she doesn't stop smelling it, cupping her hand every few miles.
Her name is Theresa.
I am sure of it.
She is on her way to California.
Back in the bedroom, Tito is still sitting,
cross-legged in front of a box. He holds a pocket watch, weighing it,
testing the strength of its chain, before setting it aside.
"What are you doing?"
"I changed my mind," he says.
"The house needs ethos."
He winks at me. It is a literal gesture,
without irony, unlike anything I have seen from him. It is clear that
he will not give a further explanation. I am guessing that he no longer
wants the house completely empty, that he wants a few items strategically
arranged — the pocket watch, a pair of binoculars, things he is
putting into a pile — stuff that defines its owner as being having
varied, worthwhile interests.
"But Browder didn't live here last,"
I say. "This stuff isn't his."
"No one knows anything about him,"
he says. He is almost polite. "You've all but said so. No one knows
he didn't leave it exactly like this. If we are remembering a person no
one remembers, there is no photograph to compare against the picture we
He picks up an antique flask. He sniffs
it before adding it to his pile of keepers. He gets up smoothly, a sort
of twist without using his hands, and moves to trade his box for another.
When he sits down again, and gets it open, the box is full of books. He
takes them out, one after the next, flipping through them, knocking dust
off against his pants.
"He wouldn't have read any of this,"
"Where's Wellbutrin?" I ask.
"Downstairs," he says, "painting
I go find him.
The room is about ten by sixteen with a
simple square window that shows the highway. A large, wooden desk —
faded towards orange — has been pushed into the center of the room
from a corner where the carpet is still flat.
Wellbutrin is on a stepladder, painting
a single wall pink.
I want to ask him how Tito talked him into
it, but he is moving so smoothly that I suspect he no longer objects.
Watching — the long, vertical motion of his roller, the little snap
of his wrist at the top and bottom of each pass — I realize that
the room was his idea.
I would like to decorate Theresa's room
in yellow. I know we don't have time, and Tito wouldn't go for it. Still,
I would like to put daisies in a glass vase on the windowsill. I would
like to leave her favorite animals on the bed. I would like — if
by some miracle, she were to see the broadcast — I would like her
to know we have not forgotten.
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