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: 
  
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."
"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
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.
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
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,"
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.
"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
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
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
[ Previous ] [ To be continued
in DIAGRAM 5.2 ]