Matt Vadnais






The Living: [1] [2] [3]

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

As always, we start at noon.
      The house looks like our other houses, abandoned, stripped down.
      Like the others, it is haunted if you want it to be.
      There is no evidence of tampering. The lack of dust only serves to bring the place's sterility into greater focus. The pocket watch, left on the kitchen counter, seems completely orphaned.
      We are the difference.
      Tito isn't twitchy. He watches the chat room. Though he worked carefully on the write-up, adding resonance to the scattered objects and pink wall, he doesn't leave anything to the reader. He has logged on as a random observer, someone from Saskatchewan, who happens to know a great deal about the dead Marxist. When the conversation strays, he sits up a little taller but doesn't panic. He types carefully.
      Wellbutrin and I watch the house, but we don't defer to it, not like before. We talk loudly — sometimes about the broadcast, sometimes not — like what we're seeing is no more fragile than television.
      "Boyfriend," he says.
      "Clifford Pit," I say. "He never went by Cliff, for obvious reasons. He sold ice cream in Branson, Missouri. The only vacation I ever took. This girl I knew, the female lead in Fear Helix, she talked me into coming, but didn't see me for two days after we stopped for a frozen yogurt. He never knew I was who I was."
      Wellbutrin nods.
      "I kept his number for two years, but never called."
      "No, no," Tito says. "Capital doesn't work like that."
      I look at him.
      He types so calmly that it is hard to remember that it is him.
      I don't want to approve of what he is doing. I've always thought that history is a Rorschach test, the years like dark curls. When I was BUR_GHOST, I was still trying to be part of history's inky shape.
      Watching Tito taking the guesswork out of it, it seems as though we have been all along, choosing the houses, writing our blurbs, posing as ghosts in one way or another.
      Looking at the house we've reshaped, how the sunlight falls across a pair of cufflinks on the floor of an other-wise empty master bedroom, I realize that what I wanted —an alive past, comforting and vital — is impossible. I have been settling for the pages of a historical flip-book turned fast enough to feign motion.
      Though I've always suspected conspiracy, I'm in on the secret now.

"Boyfriend," Wellbutrin says.
      We have about forty minutes to go. I am more tired than I've been at the end of a broadcast. Part of it is that we are on a bed, without any back support, and I can't lie down.
      "Tatoskins Johnson," I say. "He was tall, with a wolf tattoo on his calf. At restaurants, he only ordered appetizers and desserts. Once, we danced on a rowboat in the middle of pond. He never pretended like he was going to throw me in."
      "Quiet," says Tito. In the light from the box, he doesn't look angry, though it is one of the first things he has said to us. "We do the last few minutes in silence," he says. "I've put an end to the chat. For now."
      We do as told.
      I don't watch the house.
      From the start, I have known it better than our earlier houses.
      By now, it holds no mysteries for me.
      I can't say the same for Tito.
      He is not particularly rapt, or reverent.
      He is proud.

"I won't be long," Tito says to Wellbutrin. He says it warmly, but I don't know how much warmth gets through. The cameras are off, the house completely quiet. Tito looks up briefly, from the chat he has restarted.
      "Wake me," Wellbutrin says.
      They kiss.
      It is the first kiss they have allowed themselves in front of me. I suspect I only saw it because it wasn't a real a kiss but something else. I touch Wellbutrin, briefly, before he makes his way through the boxes of abandoned belongings to the hallway.
      I wait for Tito to finish. I half lie down, propping my head on a hand, my elbow bent. I am drifting off, but Tito clicks away. The bed is firm and shakes gently with his keystrokes. I can't stop imagining his typing. It is lucid and clear but just out of reach. I am back in the wheat field, his words in the clouds. I am in a crowded elevator, sweating out whatever phobia I am cultivating, when the building starts to shake — in my panic I can hear a series of clicks, an old friend trying to show me the way out in a language I can't decipher.
      When I fully return to the bedroom, I feel the strain in my wrist.
      I am not sure if my phantom fingers are falling asleep or waking up.
      My tongue feels large in my mouth, my teeth the wrong size.
      Tito is still at it.
      "You could keep Wellbutrin company," he says.
      I get up clumsy and nauseated. I can't stop thinking, but am unsure what I am thinking about. I know I am chilly, that I want to lie down. In his dim light, I think Tito is someone else, a man I saw on a bus once, or in a deli, a man with a different face, sitting at Tito's computer.
      "Where's Tito?"
      "Go check on Wellbutrin."
      I am not satisfied with the answer, but I do as he says.
      When Wellbutrin sees that it is me opening his door, he sits up. I climb on the bed mat, and he relaxes into my shoulder, sliding his arm under my neck. I can tell by his touch he is disappointed I am not Tito.
Still he tries to muster as much comfort as he can.

I am in my own bed, aware enough to know I have been moved.
      I am alone, though the computer still hums.
      For a while, like I did with Tito's typing, I take the sound into my dreams. I am chasing a white dog that never barks but sings in a fan-like voice. I am on a propeller airplane, over an ocean, surprised by how high we are, how quiet the ride is. I am on an escalator that never stops climbing.
      Eventually, light comes through my window.
      I pull myself awake. Outside, a few blocks away, in front of the closest house, a family gets into a sedan.       They look ready for church. Even this far away, through the glass, they make me nervous.
      It is the same thing I felt in Lawrence.
      Unlike my fear of death, I can't remember when this fear started. Without an origin, it is unpredictable. I worry that Tito, or even Wellbutrin, could someday make me feel this way — a fast throat and stomach, a sense of rising or falling way too fast.

The others are not awake, and I am tired of the room, so I go the kitchen.
      One of the items Tito set up for the broadcast was an old toaster. I plug it in and get bread from the refrigerator. When it pops up, I take the toast with my thumbs. The heat is enough to feel in my missing fingers, but I don't drop either piece. I struggle with knives, so I use a thumb, dipping it into a tub of butter, scrapping it onto the hot toast.
      I have nothing to do but eat and wait.
      Listening to the house, in the poorly-lit kitchen, I realize that — as well as I thought I knew it — I don't know any of its noises. It's been a long time since I lived in a truly familiar house, where I knew, without thinking, how to get the shower just right, whether the toilet would run if I didn't jiggle the handle.
I manage to pour myself some orange juice. The glass is plastic, one of the four we've been taking everywhere. It has several animated animals, two cats and a dog. I think it is a fast-food promotional, from a movie I saw as a child.
      I imagine Theresa on her way to California, drinking from a similar glass, different animals, a different movie. Her parents are listening as she explains why she likes the parrot best, why the bulldog is friendlier than anyone notices.
      They know why she is between homes.
      They can tell her.
      If she worries that she won't make friends, they can reassure her.
      If she starts to cry, her mother will frown from where she is driving.
      If she starts to cry, her father will turn to her, over his seat.
      His face will be like my father's, but alive.

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