odern office supply scholars trace the origins of the stapler back to the Khui Mam people of what is now northeastern Cambodia. Written descriptions of this stapler, inscribed into damp, moss-covered temple walls, date back as far as the fourth century of the Common Era. No known examples of the Khui Mam staplers survive, but the device is believed to have little resembled the complex machines that now adorn most office and classroom desks. The temple inscriptions describe an object nearly twice the size and weight of modern staplers. These behemoths were usually spherical or ovoid, carved of semi-precious stones with bas-relief scenes from Hindu mythology—Apsaras leaping fully formed from the milky primal sea, Vishnu, the preserver, holding a chakra in one of his four hands, elephant-headed Ganesh sleeping with the waning moon above him.
Since the Khui Mam had yet, at this time, to discover paper, these early staplers were mostly ornamental, although they were occasionally used as weapons—hurled through the air with vengeance at troublesome members of the community or thieving spider monkeys.
* * *
My first experience with a stapler came in kindergarten when my teacher, Mrs. Mahoney, gave me a brutal spanking with the big crème colored one that sat on her desk. My memories of the incident are nothing more than faded snapshots in my head and no written narrative of the incident exists. Even the school where it took place, Spring County Elementary, is gone, having been replaced by a countywide system of several different elementary schools in 1971.
In these snapshots Mrs. Mahoney is a huge pear-shaped woman with prodigious black and gray eyebrows plucked into a vaguely feminine shape and the smell of talcum powder surrounding her. In one she is sitting at her desk, looking down at me with her forehead pinched and compressed so that her eyebrows meet in the middle, becoming a continuous ridge of coarse hair above her eyes. She rounds the desk instantly and is after me with that stapler in her hand. She must have been stapling some papers together when I did whatever it was that dredged up such primal anger in this late-middle-age woman. I believe it had something to do with a girl. Judging from her reaction, it must have been horrible. Or maybe she was just a sadistic maniac. At the time, I wasn’t old enough to evaluate such things, and, despite extensive research, I have no idea where she is these days. If I knew, I would ask her.
In another fragment of memory, I’m moving as fast as I can toward the back of the classroom through rows of folding tables covered with drying finger-paintings and her behind me, whacking away at my backside with the flat base of the stapler. I hear the ch-chunking sound with each swat, the force of the blow bringing the stapler head down on the anvil, driving out a spent staple.
Among these images that flash, one after another, through my head, the only one that burns with such horrible clarity that it seems to be able to stand there in front of me at the bus stop or shine through the ceiling of my apartment as I sit in front of my computer, waiting for some vital piece of information to download, is the trail of staples.
The classroom is empty and warm, and I’m crawling slowly on my hands and knees picking up the staples. Mrs. Mahoney isn’t there and my face, still hot and sticky from tears, hovers only inches from the floor. The tile—gray with flecks of black and white—is gritty with dirt, but the coolness of it feels good. I am following this trail of tiny bent staples one by one, as if, by performing this act I could sneak back in time in order to find something, having no idea what that thing might be. It’s quiet and I collect the little compressed wires all the way back to the teacher’s desk, putting each one in my mouth as I go. When I get the last one I lay my head down on the floor, a queasy metallic taste in my mouth, and there is a sound like thunder somewhere beneath the school. I can feel the vibrations. They aren’t strong but they reverberate deep inside me. So deep that it feels as if they might shake parts of me loose. As if I might disintegrate into pieces right there on the floor.
* * *
The term ‘stapler’ is derived from the name of the man who devised the first mechanical stapling machine in the mid 18th century. Count Gerard Tomas de Staplier was a French nobleman known for both his inventiveness and his dissolute lifestyle. Count de Staplier came into his inheritance at an early age and subsequently developed a raging addiction to ether and an affinity for strange, sometimes grotesquely painful, sexual practices. He invented many devices for the inhalation of anesthetics, developing mechanical components that were later used in inventions ranging from gas masks to lava lamps.
The device that bears his name was perfected in the summer of 1768 in order to indulge one of the Count’s many sexual fixations. Made of cast iron, the machine he devised was said to have filled an entire room in his country estate at Sully-Sur-Loire. This first stapling machine was powered by steam and inserted a four-inch ornamental brass staple with inch and a half tangs. The count used his machine to drive these decorative staples, often twisted and knotted into intricate patterns, through the soft malleable flesh on the inside of his upper thighs. According to Staplier’s private diaries, which were made public after his death from an unknown pox in 1771, the Count, while in the depths of ether intoxication, found the sensation that surged through his body when the fine sharp points of the staples pierced his skin singularly arousing.
Eyewitness accounts of Staplier’s sexual rituals, recently recovered by scholars, report that the ch-chunking sound made by the huge machine reverberated around the house like thunder, and that when the staples perforated the Count’s skin his eyes rolled back in his head and he made low animal-like sounds as though in some sort of primitive religious ecstasy. The whereabouts of the machine itself are, as of this writing, unknown.
* * *
I remember receiving my first stapler as a gift from my girlfriend during the summer after eighth grade. My girlfriend, Paula, was what we called, at the time, a retard. She was a year younger than me and enrolled in special education classes at my school. The school, a small low building with a yellowed limestone façade situated across a gravel road from the elementary school, was where all the junior high and high school student in the county went. But, either because there wasn’t enough classroom space—which was often a problem at our school—or perhaps because of an unspoken desire to segregate the students with special needs from the rest of the kids, most of Paula’s classes were held in small tin trailer-like structures set out in the field behind the main building.
Paula lived alone with her mother in a shabby gray house not far from the school. She wasn’t considered a pretty girl—taller than most kids her age, thin to the point of being bony and with shoulder length hair a color between brown and blonde that couldn’t be definitively classified as either. Her wide mouth overflowing with teeth that stuck out at strange angles and a second row pushing their way out over the other ones.
She was a nice person, though, and I liked her quite a bit. She was very shy around strangers, but always considerate of other people’s feelings. You could easily forget that she was retarded, but then she would do something that reminded you that she didn’t think about things the same way other people did. The stapler was a good example. It was one of those old 1940’s-style machines—solid enameled steel with a wide, flat pad on top where you would press down to staple something. She gave it to me on my birthday, saying she had chosen it because I always seemed to have trouble keeping things together. Now I could staple things together, she told me, and keep them sorted that way. Most of the things I had trouble keeping together were in my head, but in some ways I understood what she meant. The stapler felt heavy in my hand and with the simple act of holding it a desire rose up somewhere deep inside me, a desire to force everything together with a firm slam of my palm on that wide pad. To force everything into some kind of well-ordered entity that you could look at, touch, keep in your mind. Something real.
She had stolen the stapler from the church on Mound Street; it still had a strip of paper taped across the top that said: ‘Property of Springville Methodist Church’. Because her mother was the church secretary, Paula spent a lot of time in the office down in the basement of the rectory. Probably, she grabbed the stapler while her mom was out running errands for the minister, Reverend Timmons. Paula did this a lot—picking up things and carrying them off because she felt someone could use them. I’m not sure if Reverend Timmons or her mother even missed the old relic. Maybe they had both arranged their thoughts in such a way that trivial little things disappearing as if they had never existed failed to even register.
I still don’t know what Paula told her mom when she went to meet me, but by the time my birthday came around during the first week of August, we had somehow managed to see a lot of each other that summer. We spent hours together down by the creek that ran through the field behind the tin buildings where she had her classes, under the bridge where the highway passed over, kissing and with our hands down each other’s pants. Paula hadn’t wanted to do it at first, when we went down there after school and the lilies were just starting to come out near the edge of the field. I pressed the issue. Sometime around the end of May she agreed, or maybe just stopped resisting, and I slid my fingers around beneath her panties until her back arched and her breathing stopped for what seemed like a dangerous amount of time, only to rush back into her as she pulled away from me in the hot dirt next to the bridge pilings.
After that first time it was usually Paula who couldn’t wait to get down there under the bridge and crawl into my arms with her jeans already around her ankles. She had an unbelievably large amount of pubic hair for a girl her age. It was thick and long and sometimes it took me a while to work my way through it with my fingers and reach the wetness underneath. No matter how many times we had one of our fierce little interludes, with cars and trucks rumbling over our heads, she never ceased to be fascinated with my orgasm, playing with the ejaculate between her thumb and fingers before washing her hands down on the bank.
My birthday was hot and humid to the point that there wasn’t much difference between the air we were breathing and the tea-colored creek water at the foot of the dirt incline under the bridge. We were naked and sweating, both of us leaning against one of the cool concrete pilings having been kissing and pleasuring each other for some time already. The stapler, which she had given me as soon as we got underneath the bridge, was there next to us, near where we had tossed our clothes.
Having never actually engaged in sexual intercourse with a girl before, I had, for some time, been desperately trying convince her to be my first, but she always shook her head violently if I tried to crawl between her legs and made a growling sound somewhere deep inside her if I tried to press things. So I was surprised when Paula reached over, grabbed my arm with a strange urgency, and said she wanted to commit the unspeakable sin with me. That was how she said it—the unspeakable sin.
I was more nervous than I thought I would be as she turned away from me on her hands and knees with her butt up in the air, that bushy hair protruding from between her legs in big lumpy tufts. I got behind her on my knees and tried to find my way in, but she let out a muffled little scream and told me no, she wanted to do it in the butt. I asked her why in the world she would want to do it like that and she said that Reverend Timmons had told her it was less of a sin that way. With an understanding of the mechanics of the operation that I didn’t wonder about until years later, she spit in her hand, reached back and stroked the saliva onto my erection, and guided me in.
It was a strange sensation—difficult at first, then very easy. I started out slow and tentative with a vague guilty feeling rumbling around in the back of my mind, but then something inside me took over and I grabbed her hard by the waist and pounded into her. She yelped beneath me like some kind of bony animal that I had cornered down there beneath the highway. I got up on one knee when I felt I was ready to climax, and my foot knocked the stapler tumbling down the embankment and into the creek. I spent an hour looking for it after we finished, but somehow it had completely disappeared beneath the water, almost like it had ceased to exist.
I recall not knowing how to feel about the whole thing when I got home, but I didn’t wonder about how the relative sinfulness of anal and vaginal sex had come up between her and Reverend Timmons. Not until, as I said before, years later.
For some reason that I never have been able to discover with any certainty, Paula wasn’t able to meet me behind the school for the rest of the summer and she never would say why. Perhaps her mother had somehow found out about our little adventure, but Paula refused to either confirm or deny this possibility. In fact she never said much to me at all after that day, and halfway through the first nine weeks of school she and her mother left town.
After she was gone, I went down to the creek sometimes and poked around in the water looking for that stapler. I have this memory of one particular time. It is such a clear, burning recollection that sometimes I wonder if it really happened or not. It is a Saturday near the end of October and I am stripping off my clothes and wading in, carefully feeling around in the slimy mud with my toes for the old enameled steel machine. The air is cool, almost cold and smells like burning leaves, but the water is warm, like a bath. I go in circles, slowly working my way out near the middle where the water comes clear up to my neck, squeezing the bottom between my toes for what seems like hours feeling mud and smooth ovoid stones well up around my feet, searching for the gift she gave me. But I never find it.
* * *
Scholars today attribute the genesis of modern stapler production to one man—Henry Percifield Pennyrile. As a young man, just after the turn of the century, H.P. Pennyrile worked in his father’s stapler shop in upstate New York. At that time, staplers were still hand-assembled by craftsmen who had apprenticed for years to learn their trade. Staplers often featured scrolling gold inlays, exotic hardwood bodies and intricate stapling mechanisms that required diligent maintenance throughout the life of the machine. Pennyrile changed all this in the early twenties, forming his own company—Penco Industries—and, using modern production-line methods, creating a stapler that the average man could afford to buy and maintain.
During the war, Pennyrile received government contracts to produce thousands of staplers for the clerical regiments of the armed forces as well as special top-secret models for the country’s domestic intelligence gathering organizations. One model in particular, the Penco AR-9B, was held under such tight security that the government and the company denied its existence up until the late seventies. This model, of which only seventeen remain, was capable of discharging up to two hundred staples per minute depending on the skill of the user and was considered one the government’s most valuable weapons on what was called the ‘bureaucratic front’ in the war against fascism.
* * *
I remember being fired from a job when I was twenty-two years old because of thirty-seven stolen cases of staples. But I wasn’t the one who took them. I did take a hundred and seventeen confidential performance evaluation files, but no one even noticed that. Instead it was the staples.
It was my first job; halfway through my senior year in college I quit school and became a file clerk at a large company in Indianapolis. Perhaps because I only worked there for seven months before getting fired, or perhaps because of the size and complexity of the company’s operations, I never knew exactly what the company did or produced. I think I was told during the interview, but I was so nervous that most of what was said and done during that brief stressful incident passed into and then out of my mind like the shadow of a cloud being blown across a cornfield.
I worked in a small damp windowless room in the basement of a limestone building around the corner from the main offices. My desk was small and flimsy with a Formica top—more like a folding table really—in a row with three other clerks. There were five rows in all for a total of twenty clerks. Abe, the man in charge of our department, sat at a much larger, sturdier desk at the front of the room. He was old, or at least he seemed old to me at the time, maybe sixty, with small pointy eyes and a forehead that appeared to be, probably because of his receding gray hair, much too big for the rest of his face. He always wore a cardigan sweater and a tie to work and walked with a slight limp in his left leg—some kind of wound from the war. It was common knowledge around the office that in the service Abe had been a clerk in some far-off, humid country, but he never discussed how he ended up wounded. I imagined that somehow he had been hurt in a horrible office machinery accident, but I realized that was unlikely. He spent his time filling out forms, stapling papers together, and performing other tasks that were, at the time, and still are today, a mystery to me.
My job, along with that of the other nineteen clerks in the office, was to file the weekly performance evaluations of the employees in purchasing and personnel according to a tracking number that was pre-printed in red ink in the upper left hand corner of each evaluation form, but I never could tell which ones came from purchasing and which from personnel. I brought it up with Abe one morning. He started coughing like he did whenever something upset him—a horrible rattling cough that sounded like thunder rumbling up from somewhere deep inside his body—and told me that it was strictly prohibited for us look at, or even think about, anything on the reports we handled except the tracking number. Abe was still breathing in a heavy, deliberate fashion because of his coughing fit. Between gulps of air he explained that, if I needed to know, evaluation numbers that started with an ‘E’ came from purchasing and those that started with a ‘U’ came from personnel.
This didn’t seem to make any sense, but Abe told me that it didn’t have to make any sense and then went back to his work, stapling reports together and putting them in stacks on his desk, giving me the impression that he had said all he meant to say on the topic and that I should go back to my desk and resume my filing duties. The clerk whose desk was next to mine warned me that the incident would probably be written down in my own weekly evaluation that was sent by Abe every Friday to some other building nearby to be filed by some other clerk according to its own red, pre-printed tracking number. I never did find out where this other building was or who was in charge of filing our evaluations.
This was a few years before computers replaced clerks and paper files in big companies so instead of an electronic database full of names and reports, we had a giant room just off our office with gray, enameled metal shelving packed full of cardboard boxes with handles punched in the sides, each box containing dusty manila folders which held evaluation forms, all filed according to date, tracking number, and employee name. The room was cold, dimly lit by ancient fluorescent fixtures, and always smelled of mildew. It was larger than any room I had every seen. In fact, it was so large that in the seven months I worked there I never found the end of it. I never saw the back wall or the side walls, or any walls other than the one that our office had in common with it. Sometimes I wondered whether it even had any other walls. Sometimes I thought that it went on forever into the darkness with nothing but shelves and boxes and the smell of mildew. That it had no end. Like you could keep walking forever among all those files and simply cease to exist.
My eventual dismissal happened because of my habit of eating lunch in the office while Abe and the other clerks went out somewhere for theirs. I packed my lunch—an onion and mayo sandwich with a pickle on the side—into a paper sack every morning in my small apartment on the far west side of town so that during my lunch break I could read the files from the endless storage room. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be reading employee files, but for some reason I was fascinated with them. Maybe it was that weightless feeling I got for an hour everyday when I could become completely lost, buried in all that information about other people. People I didn’t even know in any real sense of the word. After a few weeks, it wasn’t enough to just read them during lunch. I began to take them home. But only the really interesting ones.
By the time of my firing I had stacks of them—folders covered in dust. They were all over my apartment—tucked in drawers of the dresser my landlord had provided when I moved in, piled up on the floor of the living room, the bathroom, everywhere. Dispersed so thoroughly throughout my home that even if I had decided to return them, there was no way of ever gathering them all together so that I could take them back to the file room and undo my act of petty thievery.
I can still remember the names of the people I read about—Kernan Reilly, Donald Wnirowski, Elizabeth White. I can see myself, alone, combing through those papers. I sit on the carpeted floor of my apartment and wonder how the reports translate into real lives. Donald coming home from work on the day he was laid off in 1978 after seventeen years with the company. Kernan celebrating with his wife—his file said he was married— when he received a ten-percent raise in 1980. I wonder about Elizabeth, who was hired straight out of Wabash Secretarial School on November 17th 1974. I sit and think about her, wondering what she looks like. I picture her as thin and quiet, with a tendency to help others in her department when they’re feeling bad about something. I wonder what she does when she goes home. She’s single and for some reason I imagine her in a small apartment, spending a lot of time in the tub, feeling the warm bathwater covering her naked body and staring at the ceiling as if she expects some vital piece of information to appear there if she looks long enough.
But the further back I read, the less real the stories feel, the less solid the pictures of the people become in my mind, like they had somehow faded with time. Like if I were to walk far enough back into that room, running my hand along the edge of those gray metal shelves, knocking the dust off onto the concrete floor as I go, the files, the stories would become unbelievable even to the people who had lived them. The stories, the people, would, just at the point where I expect them to come together and make sense, slip through my fingers and disappear forever and leave me with nothing but dust, ancient fluorescent light, and half an onion sandwich in my hand.
I had plenty of time to wonder about these things in the evenings. And during lunch, except on days when I was interrupted about midway through by a delivery from the supply department. Folders, pencils, staples, yellow pads of paper, all in boxes stacked up on one of those metal dollies. I signed for the stuff because that’s what the man with the dolly asked me to do and then I put the boxes in the closet near the door where we kept all our office supplies. I never thought about what it meant to put my name to these things or why they were delivered during lunch hour when there would normally be no one in the office. I never even counted the boxes to make sure they matched the invoices that I signed.
The day I was fired, Abe called me up to his desk and asked me what I knew about staples. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to say; I wondered if this was his way of getting around to the missing files. One of his fits of coughing seized him and as he rumbled and shook and turned away from his desk in his wooden swivel chair, covering his mouth with his hand and hunching his shoulders in strange spasms as if he were sobbing or becoming possessed by some evil spirit, I managed a glance at the memo. All I made out was something about thirty-seven missing cases of staples. No mention of the files.
For a while it bothered me that I had been fired for something I didn’t do, but mostly what went through my head was what it would look like in my evaluation file, what kind of story it would tell if someone in some basement office ever decided to read the narrative of my brief employment at that company. The company no longer exists, having been merged with a large multi-national corporation several years after my dismissal, and I have never come across any records of its operations, but I keep thinking that those boxes full of dusty folders are still around, that the box with the story of my time there still exists. I realize, though, that even if my files do exist, the chances of anyone bothering to read the twenty-year-old papers are so slim that they come very close to zero. The chances of anyone making any sense of them are even lower.
* * *
The prevailing opinion among researchers and those in the office supply business is that most stapling will soon be done over the Internet. Apsarnet, a software company based in Bangalore, India, is currently working on a program that they hope will make the traditional stapler obsolete. The program will allow the company to accommodate the stapling needs of up to four million customers a day through its central processing server, with the cost of a virtual staple being only a fraction of that of a traditional one. Experts in the field predict that with a sufficient volume of Internet-based stapling, the retail cost of a virtual staple could quickly approach zero. But even after the stapler as we know it has gone the way of the mimeograph machine and the steam-powered hole punch, committed collectors and historians will continue to uncover new chapters in the history of this interesting machine and new facets of its intriguing story, thus enriching our collective understanding of each other and of ourselves.
* * *
The pastor at my church says that my job as a customer care associate at the big office supply store out by the mall is a blessing. As I sit on the bus taking me home this evening I am looking at one of the pamphlets that came in today advertising the new staplers that we’ll be getting soon—high capacity electric machines that use industrial staples and can bind an unbelievable number of papers—I feel like she might be right; on other days I’m not so sure. But the pamphlet is slick and brightly colored and I’m amazed at the machine’s advertised ability to fasten so much stuff together into one clean, organized bundle.
The pastor also says I have to understand the story of my life, that I have to put all these memories in my head together into something with meaning in order to grow as a person and overcome my problems. We both agree that I have a few problems. My pastor’s name is Sister Vivian, but because it’s an Internet church, I’ve never actually met her in person. I like it better that way. We have a virtual service every Sunday with a little electronic choir singing out of the speakers on my computer and I e-mail her sometimes for advice. I’m not sure, but I think others do the same thing. The church charter states that all members of the congregation are welcome and encouraged to bring their problems to the pastor. Assuming, that is, they are up-to-date on the membership dues of $19.95 a month. They automatically charge the dues to my Visa card, so I take advantage of the opportunity to talk to someone.
When I’m not working or e-mailing Sister Vivian, I spend my time doing research on the web. Usually I do research on the history of things nobody cares about. Things that most people think have no history. With my computer I can go back in time through files and reports, stories and artifacts—information that’s been mostly ignored. I find out all kinds of things. Things no one would even believe if the proof didn’t exist.
Sister Vivian says this is a healthy hobby, but sometimes, when I stay up all night doing research and then I stand on the corner down the street from my house at six in the morning, I feel like I’ve spent the night physically buried in some unnamable substance, almost like I’ve sunk down into another muddy world and now the real world, as I stand and wait for my bus, feels like it doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s a strange feeling that makes me wonder whether this person, this middle-aged man standing there as the morning traffic goes by, is really me or just some thin representation of me with no real substance to it. On mornings like this, my research doesn’t feel like a healthy hobby at all.
I think about what Sister Vivian said about the memories I have of my life, and sometimes on these strange mornings it feels like I can almost grasp what she means, like there’s a connection between how I feel waiting for the bus with the sun rising down the street at the far end of my neighborhood and what she’s trying to tell me, but it’s a connection that I can’t quite make. Just when I think I have it, when it all seems like it might come together and make sense, it slips away from me like some slick, murky thing that can’t ever really be held. Then I get on the bus.
On my way home from work in the evening, I always sit across from this lady. She’s tall with dark eyebrows and she’s always reading some serious looking book as the bus glides across town toward my stop. She never looks up. She appears to be either younger than me, or much, much older. It’s hard for me to tell. Sometimes it seems like she could be thousands of years old, other times like she was born right as I got on the bus. She always wears a nice dress and some kind of thin scarf over her shoulders. This evening the scarf is green and so thin and translucent that it hardly even exists.
Every day she gets on before I do and she’s still reading when I get off near my house. Usually I walk up the street past all the small square houses that look exactly like mine—the whole neighborhood was built by the same company and the houses are so much alike it that on some days it feels like I could walk forever and keeping passing by my home over and over again—and I think about her and wonder what her life might be like. When I get home, I make my dinner—onion casserole and a pickle— and imagine her getting off the bus somewhere far away out in the country near a small river or a pond.
This evening, I didn’t get off at my stop. I’m staying right where I am, reading my pamphlet. For the past few miles we’ve been alone, the lady and I, the only ones left on the bus, so I’ve started a conversation with her. Not a real conversation, but a little talk in my head. For some reason, in our imaginary conversation, her name is Vivian, just like my pastor. This makes sense because for the last few months I’ve been reading Sister Vivian’s e-mails imagining that she looks like the lady from the bus. I stare at my pamphlet and she reads her book and in my mind we talk. But almost everything we say escapes me as soon as we say it and when the bus actually pulls in at the last stop near the Westlake Shopping Center, it’s like we’ve never talked at all. Everything keeps disappearing from my mind as soon as it happens, so I don’t remember getting off the bus or even what route we are taking through the neighborhood near the shopping center.
I do remember coming over a slight rise in the street just in time to watch her open her front door, pull the keys out of the lock with some difficulty, and disappear into her home. Her house is a blue two-story place with a small car parked in the asphalt driveway. I stand here, a few houses away on the other side of the street, and wonder why she doesn’t drive the car instead of taking the bus.
I find myself standing directly across from her house. The dusk is sucking the last veins of color from the clouds, the waning moon is starting to show and although the air feels warm, there is an occasional breeze that chills me. I wonder what I’m doing here, across the street from some woman’s house watching the lights in the windows click on as she moves from room to room. A horrible desire to go into her house wells up inside me like rising water, but I realize I can’t do that. I can’t go into her house. But somehow I know that she is alone, that her carpet is immaculately clean and that she is in the shower right now with her dress tossed across her bed, the green scarf on a scrolled cherry dresser, and a white terrycloth robe hanging on the bathroom doorknob.
Desperately I want to take off my shoes and go inside so I can feel that deep, clean carpet beneath my feet, I want to walk slowly up the steps and into the bathroom, I want to know about her. I want to have researched every aspect of her history, I want to be buried in her existence, I want to sleep with my face against that soft carpet, I want to create an entire narrative for her, a life, a set of verifiable facts even if I have to make them up. But I feel like even if I could do this, all the information, all the words, might start to hide her from me instead of illuminating her. Like she might turn out to be a precarious thing that could simply cease to exist if I’m not careful.
The desire inside me has risen, has filled me up to the point where I might disintegrate into a million component parts right here on the sidewalk at any second and in my mind I can see her clearly now in the shower washing herself slowly and meticulously. It’s like this fragile vision of her is the only thing holding me together.
She is wet, her arms are thin, her shoulders bony, and I can see myself in the shower too, naked, with the warm water rolling down my face and I ask her if she can honestly tell me the history of her life, if all the words and pages hold together like the books she reads on the bus or like a slick pamphlet advertising the most amazing stapler ever. I want to see if she has some vital piece of information for me. Something real. Something that will let all the stories of my life come together in a way that makes sense.