It was already midnight when he and the new hire, Dominique, were finally done unloading the crates. In the lobby, it looked like someone was getting ready to assemble a micro-home in the sunken apse and down the steps near an idle fountain that reeked with a sour-penny tang. They weren’t even halfway done and already he wanted to throttle the fool that lifted the needle from the recycled mall-soft tunes as the silence only added to the vacuum like ambiance of the impotent space. Because there was no music to shepherd the passing of time, the mechanisms of his perception that effectively digest all the visual information were nonetheless out of whack. The active-silence made him nauseous now that his eyes did so much of the heavy lifting. He, Jeremías Alonzo Fierro, spent his fifteen-minute break on the fourth-floor of the shopping mall during the overhaul.
From the cafeteria outcropping, Jeremías leaned over to watch Dominique wander a flâneur below. In the air between them a school of helium-filled ballonett jellyfish maneuvered with their attenuated limbs; the chirping made by their fine ligaments and wired tendons filled the darkened mall. The abandoned alien protein danced. For the most part the little creatures were of a deep blue and livid with flecks of white atop their soft membrane. Buoyant, malleable and listless yet confined within the insensible walls of a commissioned space.
Stretched behind him was a partition between the food court and the restroom that was full of small turkey hands. The spoiled-meat-brown butcher paper that was fastened to the glass wall with pale masking-tape was checkered inexact with hundreds of beaked figures whose owners were too small to take a flight unaccompanied yet competent enough to write their own name within the cut-out, reaffirming to the educational body that they do in fact adhere to the status quo; that they concede their pint-sized agency for the welfare of the class and do forfeit any beaver, tiger or butterfly-prospects or any other non-turkey infringements found inconsistent through the minimum provision of their hand’s shape. He stood close and read the names as if it were some sort of acrylic memorial. Several children bore the same name, in the same class.
From downstairs, Dominique shouted his name which given the acoustics sounded like a melting pot of vowels. When he stepped away he took the inactive escalator down and returned to the first floor.
“Let’s start from the back then work our way up,” Jeremías explained.
“For sure. Is that box too heavy, Al? Here, take this one instead.” They loaded and hauled the shipment onto two small floor dollies which were stacked so high with material they were forced to either walk the whole distance backwards, or repeatedly bob from side to side.
At first, the time it took to walk to the opposite end of the wing was agonizing and brought about no conversation. Jeremías would tend to sweat in copious volumes and was self-conscious of the leavened air about him. Everything about working in silence made everything else seem longer. In that, time itself came to a halt and remained absent for the rest of the night as they labor suspended in this empty, fossilized racetrack of a mall. The men also became hyper-aware of the limits of their temporal-bandwidth. The crinkle of their nylon jackets became irksome and on the third trip back were undone and left near the fountain.
“Upstairs — some kids made those thanksgiving hands on some paper.”
“Oh yeah? I remember those,” Dominique let out while lowing a box. “I’m sure my ma still has mine somewhere.”
“You still living at home?” Jeremías asked, minus any judgmental inflection.
“Well for now; it’s a little complicated, but yeah. My mom had this bad accident at her old job and’s required to stay in bed for,” in air quotes, “the foreseeable future.” He unloaded the last box, “However long that is — I don’t know.”
“Where’d she work?”
“In Hannibal. Which has me stressing over working these night jobs since, now, like right after we finish, I have to catch a ride out to my next gig.”
They unboxed an assortment of plated decorations that were all in their concavity, nickel gray. Then they were silent while the jellyfish above them quietly followed store-mode protocol within their infrared cage.
“I can’t remember ever doing one of those. The hands.”
“Bullshit, I know you did. Everyone that’s alive has made one of those turkeys. Out there somewhere in wherever-you’re-from, your turkey was abandoned and left in the dark. Along with your memory of the pledge of allegiance.”
“Why don’t you believe me when I say I don’t have one? What’s so hard to believe?”
“It’s not that I don’t believe you, I just think you can’t remember the fact that you made one as a kid.”
Jeremías said nothing and opened another box with a little more mired force.
“Well what do you remember then,” D. emphasized while hoisting Joseph over his shoulder.
“I remember watching a lot of American television while living in Mexico, and how the children’s voices never,” here he paused to put his hands together, almost touching, “fit.”
“Like, how does this white girl know so much Spanish?”
“No — not like that. I mean, when I was younger-younger I thought that that was normally how we all spoke, sort of out of sync, and that television was showing me this because you could only experience it outside of yourself. But later when I was older, someone told me about how they hired and paid little Peptio and Juanita to voice these kids instead, and I was like what the fuck. I mean years later.”
“So I guess that messed you up for a while. But you’re good now; your English is fine.”
“Right. Well I watched a lot of movies too,” Jeremías plugged the wise men to the same green extension cable as the family, which made the baby noticeably dimmer.
“See, that’s another thing. If you think you’re somehow different from the rest of us because they didn’t vaccinate your head with the turkey-hands, they ultimately got you one way or the other somewhere down the line. Movies — like you said. You watched a lot of movies.”
“I didn’t bring up the turkeys because it was a way for me to feel good about being different.”
“Yeah, even if it is true,” Dominique rebutted with a dusty knot of tinsel in each hand.
“It is true — I never made a turkey hand.”
“Okay so then what did you lose out on? What were you left without, or like: how about this — what do you see now that you didn’t know was missing before realizing you hadn’t made one?”
“Nothing I guess.”
“But I mean, there’s more to it.”
“I don’t think missing is the right word. I just think it’s something we can’t see or hear, but it’s not missing. I’m not even sure being there or not-there is what I’m getting at. It’s just about being sure that you are you — I was just thinking about when that clicks. The turkey-thing, I think is just supposed to imitate the first time you know for sure that you understand what you are.”
“Maybe not literally understand, but I get what you mean.”
“Right.” Jeremías thumbed the sweat from his eye sockets with the collar of his shirt.
“The other guys I work with don’t usually talk about this kind of shit.”
“No I think it’s interesting. Talking about this here of all places made me think of this one time I got lost in a mall.”
“Damn. As a kid, you mean.”
“The mall in Hannibal had this ice skating rink that was open all year round and my grandparents would take me.” Here, his voice began to rise as he climbed a double-rung ladder; the word me hit a distant wall like a tuning fork, while he latched a couple fasteners to an anchor in the concrete that was never removed regardless the decorative season. Jeremías imagined he did this in order to give his story dramatic verbal space. He continued, “usually they would always stand near the glass and watch me go around and around for about an hour. But this one time after going around and around I slipped and landed on my face real bad. I fell so fast I didn’t even have time to put up my hands — just right on my little ass head. And like right away I called it quits and walked off the ice, sat on the floor, took off the skates, turned them in and walked out. But it wasn’t until I felt the blood on my face that I thought to look for my folks. I forgot they even existed.”
“Was it bad?”
“I still have the scar.”
“But as I was walking around with my hand on my face, that was the first time I realized how terrified I was of blood.”
“Of your own, or just of blood in general?”
“No, it’s only my own. I was there and saw what happened to my brother’s mouth during his first seizure: fine. But cut my thumb open on some broken glass and my mind flips a switch and my boys find me just lying there like a cheap mannequin. The lights go out, Al.”
“It may have to do with the fact that you’re so full of yourself. Maybe when the smallest amount of you is let out, your body just goes into shock.”
“Did you ever think it had something to do with family? I’m not even sure that’s a thing.”
“Well that’s what my grandma told my ma: that it was god’s way of punishing us for not fighting in the war.”
“So in a way, you’re allergic to yourself; to what you were born with and what was given to you. Most people are just allergic to eel.”
They reassembled a wreath and with a shoe-box winch hoisted it up to a nude lynch-pin on the ceiling. The more the winch chugged the higher the wreath rose. The small machine perspired gasoline rainbows at their feet: a small price for its simple graces.
“Well in the end, it’s something you have to live with regardless of where it started. I mean, what does knowing where something begins good for? When it happens it happens, y ya. Trying to go back after the fact and reconstruct ties is really only a way of — ”
“Ties with what?”
“Like with your own life I guess; with history.”
“You’re trying to say asking questions is already a way of making things up.”
“All I’m saying is, finding what you’re looking for — it’s never going to be enough to change anything. Because that’s what we all do isn’t it; that’s what all this is for,” Jeremías says, gesturing to the decorations (or perhaps the mall broadly speaking?), D. rolled his eyes.
“Can I tell you something?” Dominique, spoke more in admittance than correspondence.
“I’ve always felt the need to be purified. Somehow.”
“Is it that bad, being afraid of the blood?”
“It drives me bats.”
“Despite what you think, when you’re hemophobic, you don’t even think about the red stuff — just about what could go wrong. It’s become this bridge to other small fires. To do means to like be on the edge of some abyss while blindfolded.
And you don’t feel at home with yourself. Ever. Because there is always something there and it, like, discourages you from settling in; I think it got to me before I had the chance to imagine I belonged anywhere. Boggles the fucking mind. I don’t even realize that I refuse to look at my own body anymore — it just sort of happened. Don’t laugh I’m serious. My body was working for two interpretations of how I was supposed to deal with this, but in the end they both became so suspicious of one another, I was estranged from any sense of discovery. I know being purified is only a grim joke and — ”
“I just thought purified was an interesting way to put it.”
“No, I understand. When I was at community, I got to take this philosophy class that talked about the mind-body problem. (As in: how the fuck do I know this is all real and that I’m not actually asleep?) But after learning about that I just named my thing the ‘body-body’ problem.”
They stood silent as if pursued by a religious mystery, and as men who hoped that through their devotion to enlightenment, performing the code was enough to matriculate them into a system of little intelligibilities that would relieve them of their post. Most of all they did not feel like frauds; plow-men allured by the promise of rain; migrants prevented accommodation; salesman with no commission. They were left between practicing and enforcing a daft school of ideals without its due course, as only a knowledgeable vestibule of bodiless laws, finding only existence in the meeting of two minds. Like the customer and the object, there, in a store within a store.
“We float on a sea of subtraction; attracted to absence, we drink — my daughter wrote that. She’s a poet.”