His partner stayed in the truck, and he alone approached the home. At the face of the door shadows were dropped and unrendered, ceasing and like any glimpse of objects fasting their source, uncertain. It was getting dark but the horizon gave a brutal light and looked like the burning edge of aluminum, above it the pigment of gasoline rainbows near a storm drain. Down here worldly objects were either reduced to a pale glimmer or steeped in heavy chiaroscuro. Beneath his feet the silhouette of finial toppers in no particular arrangement, resulting from primer based spray paint Scenic-Inland Walnut No.2, marked the beginning of a gradual climbing gaze: past the domestic markings of dried concrete, the unfinished work a ruin, thistle woven Tonka Trucks — that even after and beyond death what remains of the desert’s fauna has the potential to cause pain — followed by collections of copper elbows and gutted brown furniture sun dried to nearing top candidate for instant combustion, canine toys with their owner nowhere to be found, all to the unavoidable horror of a proportionally generous anatomic close-up of the properties most recent cosmetic update, on the face of a U-Hauls side panel, the majestic Minnesota Butterfly — an entomologist’s wet dream, somewhere nearby Jumpei Niki shouting “why in such a hurry beautiful, it’s rabbit season!” skipping along with an oversized bug net, yet with a noble countenance like Nabokov. As he stood there waiting after the grace period of his first knock, it could be stated with confidence that what was heard inside was the destruction of Tokyo by, what may or may not have been, the climactic struggle of two — three? — government experiments set loose upon one another. Is that the sound of wings? But Mothra is out here! he thought.
With the perfume of the company’s favorite fabric sterilizer, Steri-Fab™, a minor hallucinogenic when the recommended one-to-three ratio of water is spiked to get that real pinnacle high, still clinging to his clothes, he was beginning to wonder if that good old cosmic humming was coming from a probable inner ear clairvoyance picking up on not too distant —
Just then the door opened.
Er — Good evening, Mrs. Mercy. Mattress delivery?
From behind a holiday ghost stencil on the screen door she asked in a rusty European accent if what he had brought was what she ordered: a set of two twin-sized pillow top S — — ™ mattresses with a boxed king-sized bed frame. He had. In the unfamiliar and deceptive world of used furniture, mattresses have always been at the foundation of per-unit revenue, reviving monthly burn rates to a digestible credit system — really their practical turnaround became nothing more than dirty subsidies. As one customer reduced the remaining value of one mattress unit, if it was ever returned, the store sold it back to someone else at the same cost. The market’s truly a bog. The advent of innerspring mattresses was followed by the desire to personalize their construction further, leading to a small pocket-sized spectrum of choices, King, Queen, Full, Twin, with memory foam, adjustable air or innerspring, posturepedic etc. Dimensions vary but the idea is the same. Although along the way she figured out that two twins make a king. Somewhere in this, there was a joke to be made — fools get the best cards? Probably not. Point being that this geriatric outwitted the sales team back at base. Their determination to outsmart anyone becomes a perpetual objective. Referencing things like coil count, compression bias and cell structure are pretty standard sales characteristics invented to correlate jargon with sensibility. Mrs. Mercy, sweet sixty-something Mrs. Mercy, saw past that and simply bought two smaller, cheaper mattresses of like quality and combined them. The sales dept. was the enmity of it’s own self loathing that day. For a delivery driver, this simply meant a smoother transition from the ramp of the truck to her bedroom.
Standing in the doorway he politely asked if she would direct him to said room.
Inside, it was the kind of dark which lent itself to excess, as if the lomo flare of the television were reflected off the underside of a DVD, clutter became blue then red then green, sometimes all at once. The bedroom was in the back of the home. It smelled and looked like asylum.
After the mattress was set up and after proper documentation, she opted for tea, suggesting a break from the evening sun. As if the mattress a guise, a rehearsal for her true aim — lukewarm friesian. He reminded himself that according to recent studies as the voice on the radio explained during the drive over here, one honestly works two days out of a seven day work week, and besides he never questioned the Pareto principle. His mind swam with the current of these wisdoms.
Sugar. Two spoons, please.
Are you new at that for store? She spoke with these foreign blemishes.
On the table she made small stacks of old mail, photos, depleted stamp books, recycled containers and decorative fruit in order to make room for her guest. Crowning one stack she placed a glass dew-drop magnifying glass — with the relative dimensions of a hollow earth it was the only object which served as a proper paper weight. Beneath it a photo, the young woman’s face inflated grotesquely.
She walked from the stove with the tea, her back arched like a gatekeeper.
I will provoke you since I don’t have many guests. With a finger she pointed to the floor. You are from here?
There it was, plain and simple. De dónde eres. Living backwards like a rope-maker, asking a stranger to juggle ties while a thumb’s on the table, finishing with a bow. Asking something so personal, their relationship leapt forward, he was not prepared for severe introspection. In some way he hated her for asking this, then immediately after felt guilty.
Outside the home, the truck’s horn sounded.
Me? I am, yes, was all he could bear. Near them on the table he pointed to a photo as if holding a buntline. He waited for a response.
For a moment they held their cups like a small family waiting for bad news.
Invisible gratitude on her part really, something like the foam from soaps or detergents: an enlightening notion that there is a sense of surplus, which allows one to walk away with more than intended after a bit of work — the illusion that you get more than you pay for. Breaking the system. He tried to remember a dirty joke of the same effect about the police officer, maid and chimney sweeper, but couldn’t gather its parts or edify a new one. She, invulnerable, was simply content with his presence.
He misunderstood the symmetry, reciprocating her sanguine posture in the face of minor conflict, soaked blue: the life of solitude experiencing itself, like a mirror. By now most would find numerous reasons to exit. Although in regard to symmetry the inability to comprehend this language of loneliness, in his defense, is a subtle keystone seldom seen from without. Like the glass on the stack, he beneath it. When she finally returns to the photo, her paratext becomes a sort of sermon. Aware that the words are for those seated, like a white envelope sealed, the addressing blank: but it is already too late. It is the disturbing experience of facing, of choosing and shifting, of being uneasy about one’s freedom, of simply trying to know. Here, two of a kind beat the royal flush of courtly figures, strength as weakness, weakness as strength, perhaps the same reasons why the King of Hearts drives a blade through his crown, and auf wiedersehen, the saddest kind of goodbye, he thought. Cut the sappy shit and speak using words, he thought, she’s probably going to die in her sleep, you could at least play “How have you been, old friend?”
By now they were both smoking through Viceroys like fucking hipsters. It was an old fashion case of double think. As ever — you never know what to expect. Even old ladies can do some funny shit sometimes.
Then it hit him like the U-Haul™ outside . That the guarantee of common relation, to adults, is a childhood.
Were you born here? — was the best he could come up with. Her response was lost behind the iron curtain of his imagination, already he pictured her as a child, life before a war. Candlelight and woodwinds. Like my favorite Bergman film! he thought. Wild Strawberries? That’s the one.
But when she was done talking, he felt inauthentic, someone too concerned with their demonstration.
She snuffed her cigarette and put the photo down, his sentiment gone.
Well what can you do Mrs. Mercy, like Marvin Gaye says, things ain’t how they used to be.