I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, what with fires burning a perimeter around the edges of the city and smoke drifting in. And I’m in my own movie. Sometimes my movie is POV of my hands preparing things against the smoke that drifts in from the edges to my home in the center, and sometimes it’s a medium shot of me stuffing socks in the cracks of my Victorian windows against the smoke blowing in from the burning edges. It turns out that an apocalypse film can also be a realist slice of life and it turns out that some realist slices of life are apocalyptic.
I’m in the movie again. I’m benignly narcissistic. My movie is both POV close-up and 3rd person medium shot. Doug Fir shims I press through grey socks into the unsealed crack where the top and bottom window overlap, wooden knife cuts into cotton birthday cake and then extracted, here’s a slice, and now there’s a space between slices, but what happened to the cake-matter that is now a gap between; some of it is residue on the knife, and some of it is, actually there wasn’t anything removed, it was a pure cleaving, it’s not a table saw, it’s a kitchen knife, it’s an evergreen shim and it’s a sock, and I do it calmly and, not exactly slowly, but as a movie it feels very deliberate, and this is the effect of my life as durational cinema. Normal actions feel deliberate, so it makes me feel very in control when I’m both the movie and the audience, the victim of smoke inhalation and the protector of my home, wedger of socks into rickety wooden windows and when I pause briefly, small break in the action to smell and realize that some of these socks are a little dirty, though my facial expression indicates that this is normal and ok, but it gets tossed into the laundry basket, this is a major event in the scene, an action break in the action, a departure from the normal, which was hands at window height wedging socks into cracks, then turn around sock toss into laundry basket gets your heart pumping and you’re glad when I turn back to the window to use my wooden wedge tool again, evergreen triangle sharp and pressing. Evergreen triangle wielded as tool, siblings of which burn at the edges, causing smoke, historic wind event blows smoke inward, will industry be affected, will residents lose power, will this be a hit film.
I have too many pairs of glasses because of the clarity that I seek. I once had clarity with one pair but I lost them, and so got another and saw clearly again. But then I wanted a different look so I got another, because what good is clarity through a pair of glasses when the world looking back at me gets an unclear vision of who I am because I have glasses that don’t look quite right. Through this pair I both saw clearly and felt clearly seen as the attractive glasses-wearing person I felt myself to be. Then I started getting headaches while driving and looked at things in the distance wondering if I saw clearly, questioning if the thing itself were clearly seeable, especially lit signage on storefronts whose edges always seemed blurred. And then one day I could not see clearly a cactus in my house and I thought, well some cactuses cannot be seen clearly, this cactus is obviously out of focus. But objects in the world cannot be out of focus. Non-screen visions of things are always in focus, you are projecting your own inability to see clearly onto the things around you. Blaming the goddamn cactus for being out of focus. Through certain old windows the world warps and becomes unclear. Smog softens the edges of buildings downtown and the cruise ship emergency docked off the port is so large that it makes my head shake a bit and I have to turn away, because three thousand people on one boat is tough to imagine clearly, where are they all, I can’t picture them spread throughout the entire ship, speckled into rooms and in bathing suits on lounge chairs and lined up holding plates for the buffet, I can only picture them all together near the top deck pool facing me and looking up for a portrait, yes, this I can see very clearly.
I might start setting the physical scene of my anxiety California Sunshine. Blue sky, six percent cloud dapple, white long thin cloud like punctuation gone tired so lies down in the grass, pastoral comma nap time, this might get sexual, this might get sheep-herd roaming nearby and my dress rides above my knee because I just lay down and it’s an outdoor picture so there’s no one around but me and my herd, you know?
Blue skies against November. It’s been raining so we feel like we deserve it. Blue skies and lying down outdoor sexual punctuation clouds as mentioned, telephone poles also present, lots of them, all over town they stand tall and straight and this is what I don’t want to talk about first thing in the morning, over coffee one tries not to notice only the most dick-like things on sidewalks. But telecommunication has changed and our connectivity is no longer exclusively draped over the outstretched arms of vertical PPs towering over, but power runs along them and there’s no changing it, even though when winds blow heavy the lines break and spark, igniting things below and causing smoke (if what below not already hot with the embers that burn inside of us, which usually not because here we all cool down that feeling when we watch tv at night). What if we put eyesore wires underground as a non-phallic alternative to big dick arms outstretched forever holding power lines.
-Why do you see the city only through sexual metaphors?
-I don’t know. I’d rather not.
-Rather not what? Rather not see it that way or rather not talk about why?
Rather not see it that way so as not to have to talk about why. Also, not all metaphors, also see the city through sexual facts. Sometimes walk around and it’s all people with genitals covered by clothing. In the locker room it’s people with genitals covered in towels, or, if sitting with me in bubbling hot water, people with genitals covered by bubbling hot water, or when walking up the steps holding the stainless handrail (which is nasty, soap scum spotted chlorine speckled fogged up for the heat), when walking up the hot tub steps out the jet bubbled waters they’re people without their genitals covered and I’ll look. I’ll look the same way I look when they are covered, and if they look back at me like, over the shoulder look back at the harsh chem waters from whence you came, big butt shoulder looking slip your flip flops back on, I look away before you catch my gaze, nice try, I will not be caught, I’ve got too much at stake.
The city is a sexy place, but maybe not a place for sexual encounters, I’m not really sure. I might be more content just to look at people’s clothing and know that deep down, underneath all that clothing are their parts, are all of our parts. The rest of our bodies, mediated by hip hugging layers of fabric. Welcome to California where your body will be protected by denim, wool, linen, cotton, leather, nylon, silk, but also, glass and plastic on your glasses, steel and rubber and upholstered foam sit comfortably in traffic, stainless railings steady your light-headed hot tub soaked big butt, and stainless encasements of lithium ion batteries and mother boards and HD retina screens through which we see the world, and glass outlined with wood, holes in the house, windows; windows to the outside world from the safety of our homes, literal windows to the outside world, in which there are blue skies and telephone poles, but mostly I look into other people’s windows.
Carmen’s cooking pasta across the breezeway. Paul’s cleaning dishes in his underpants, I witness crotch scratch. Frosted glass turns yellow means there’s someone in there. I take my shirt off facing the street but shut the blinds for the rest of it. Hairy person holding laptop plops down on couch. Smooth skin person with long hair sits on bed and opens laptop. Wool sweater person sits at table typing on laptop.
If I am a two-inch memory foam mattress topper then you are a quilted waterproof mattress cover filled with down-alternative and we both get mixed reviews online especially about cooling properties. Some reviewers think we cool properly as advertised but still others say night sweats continue, or even have started for the first time, but one reviewer isn’t sure because of recent onset of menopause so who knows where this heat comes from. Maybe airflow blockage via this new surface on top of my mattress, though there are holes in the foam, though patterned quilting separates the down into squares and allows valleys of air flow through, but sometimes these things just don’t work, or they just don’t work for certain people, or certain people make specific body heats that get trapped in some materials and not in others, which is why our reviews are so mixed. Because some people will airflow right through my foam holes and some people will airflow right through your quilted valleys and others will get hot and be angry with us. When we’re both in mattress form we’re nothing to each other. Mattresses don’t need other mattresses except for flat stack pillow top to pillow top rectangle extrusion via pile on the mattresses for princess. Or for compare and review. So we either have to trade off being mattresses so the other as a person can lay down on it and see how the air flow is and if night sweats stop or start, and if soft enough or too soft or not soft enough. I expect that though I have strong cooling needs—because I am hot boiling bile inside—I do not have strong cooling properties. Or we can try both being people at the same time. Go through the same test process like, do we sleep well together, do we make each other hot when wanted, can we cool each other down when wanted, is contact supportive, can I let your hip sink deep enough so you are comfortable. Mattresses are covered in cotton sheets and skin is leather.
I feel bad in the following ways: I am hungry, I have a stomach ache, and I am absent minded because I stopped drinking coffee in order to soften the edges of my mind and body, the edges of my body being a rectangle sadness that is: top edge across my chest, two sides down the rims of my lungs, bottom edge span hip to hip like a belt on a paper doll 2D person. I will fuckin flip out at any moment. But you won’t be able to tell because bile boils on the inside and you can’t feel the heat until I start talking about it, and then I might start crying in bed and you’ll be like, Damn babe where did all this heat come from and do you like it? Do you like all this heat? And I’ll be like I don’t know do you like it? Do you like that the hot fire bile boils inside of me? Do you like that I am a paper-person? Is everyone 3D but me and are their rectangle sadnesses actually prisms that go back depthwise into their cavities? No I am 3D too but while you make your prisms in the manner of extruding your front facing rectangle back into your bodies, the rectangle on my chest is one side of a triangular prism that comes to a point behind my spine. One triangle sits below my throat and another sort of encompasses my bladder and when the sun shines through me it makes rainbows. So I stand with my back to the southfacing california windows and because of blue skies again, rainbows shine onto the white walls around my bed. My studio apartment is also a prism and one of its faces is carpeted, which, I know, you’re like, too bad, it would be great if it were hardwood, but to me the carpet makes it really quiet, which is why I prefer this room to the kitchen.
Today I woke up and everything from yesterday was still true, and nothing new was true, meaning nothing happened while I was sleeping that changed everything. Meaning nobody texted me in the night. So everything, based on the evidences I have accessible to me, is the same.
External Evidence of Non-Change: white walls bedroom, wooden windows through which blue skies again, black wires across which power the grid still.
Internal Evidence of Change: I was sobbing in my dream because the child I was taking care of who never knew her mother bought a hot-dog for another motherless girl and I felt so proud of her and just heartbroken that my girl, my troubled teen baby girl has had it so hard motherless childhood but knows how to care for another troubled kid, her friend. My daughter is thoughtful despite her sadness of having only me: attentive caretaker yes, doing the best I can and feeling increasingly responsible like, though I know I’ll never be the mother she needs I can put her near what other mothers I know to serve as surrogate, if not a whole Kentucky of them then all the ones I can think of and this, maybe, is the first actual selfless thing yet in my lifetime, to divert mothers’ attention away from myself and to this child, to deflect mothers’ attention down to the helpless babe in my arms. Or maybe it’s not selfless and it’s just what being a parent is, and actually has its own neo-being-cared for like, all these people who love my child and surrogate (verb) motherhood are also caring for me, because though it is she my taken-on baby who gets all the care I also get the attention because when they come over to help they all hug me first and ask how I am and then we care for the child together.
If you don’t want to read then watch tv. I don’t want to read. I want to watch tv because it’s like hanging out with people who can’t see or hear me and who are flat, and who fit inside a rectangle with a thirteen-inch diagonal. It’s like watching a romance occur without having to strangely glance in a restaurant at an engaging couple. I mean an engaged couple. I mean a couple so engaged and laughing and speaking with good timing that the sun sets on fish dinner. Night Falls on summer bay. String lights come on and oncome sexy. I look at them over the shoulder of my restaurant friend and think in my head back to the time they first met, then look down at my own fish dinner, upon which the sun has also set, and look up over the shoulder of my friend, and then look forward into time when tonight they kiss. Cut to a shot of their butts in underwear middles about to touch, maybe hand grab cotton round. Cut to mid-winder argument and they fight honestly so you know they’ll make it, they let their anger out so it doesn’t stay wrapped up and turn into something else, cut back to my own fish dinner, spiced carcass pointing right to left on the white circle like its 3:45 on the fish plate clock, did I just eat a whole fish, plus grains and a salad. Pan up past the salt and wine center table, friend’s chest behind rosé. Pull focus pink wine yielding to patterned blouse, skin V point between her breasts gold necklace, Diane is across from me at a nice restaurant again, Diane got the fish too and picks at it still, clicking her fork and knife separating super small pieces so a bone couldn’t hide in them. Cut to Diane-Vision looking down at fork and knife inside the white circle, on Diane’s plate-clock the fish is just a background image and her hands wielding tools mark time, knife comes in from the lower right and fork comes in from the lower left, on Diane’s fish it’s 4:40.
SAMUEL NATHAN BRESLIN is the author of two self-published chapbooks, Parts of the Passion (2014) and Poems about Poland for Americans (2010). He is a co-founder and curator of Light Field, an experimental film festival held annually in San Francisco, and recently received an MFA from The Milton Avery Graduate School for the Arts at Bard College. He is now living in Queens, New York, working on a currently untitled book-length manuscript of fiction, from which these pieces are excerpted.