Joyland

Los Angeles |

Either/Or

by Allison Carter

from Ways For Going Or For Making Go In the morning an alarm sounded. Barely audible through the walls of the barn, it held at a steady pitch and then howled up, kept its peak, and dipped back down, all the way down to silence. And then it happened again. Then the sound of rain returned. And then another alarm. Inside the walls I stretched out, holding the pieces of the house together. Nail to wood, wood to wood, glass to wood I braced the building for hours – but nothing came. After 20 minutes the alarm stopped, and there was no explanation forthcoming; if the people in the house didn’t notice, then there was no possible way I could know. I was sick of hearing the two inhabitants walking around on the floors and doing nothing to keep the house together – holding nothing to nothing, day after day. Sometimes I wanted to poke the little binders out and let them freefall – second floor to first floor, first floor to basement. And I could have, too. But then what, did I want to be stuck in this house with a deeper silence? I never asked for this lonely post, watching the tall inhabitant return at dawn only to go up and down the stairs, add half and half to coffee and then, for hours, stare out the window at the trees. He seemed to see nothing. He never smiled or flinched at the bear, at the mailman, at the cry of an owl. Only his long fingers lightly scratching up, down and up the opposite arm testified to his flesh and bones state. And then there was the smaller and shorter one, bashing plastic figurines together. "The cancers can come and go, but the plastics will be here forever," I chided him. But he didn’t understand forever, yet. When they first moved in, I had their nightmares alongside them. During these months I had visions of the abysmal mouth of a wolf opening towards me, with teeth as long as icicles. I experienced being locked in a basement by a bearded man who was going to cut off my leg and eat out the insides, with a spoon. That spoon lodged in my experience even in waking – I jerked around instead of appearing where I intended. That feeling, like a grapefruit leaking inside my joints, marinating, was the first actual flesh memory. Then I had terrible dreams about knowing I was about to die and crying, and crying. On those mornings I would wake up with sketches of the faces of my old friends. I began to miss them terribly. I dreamed the memory of sleep paralysis – I must have used to suffer from sleep paralysis – when the man puts his weight on you but you can’t even open your mouth or breathe. In all my dreams my knees and vision would go – that was the worst incapacity, when the knees went translucent. Even in waking that memory of the knees having gone – just the memory of knees. For days I would try to remember the flesh dependence. I could not remember the thrill of flesh until later, when their dreams changed. On the worst day I dreamed I was scratching my ankle – and my thumb poked through my skin. The feeling was like paper. But the sound, the sound was fleshier than that. And then their dreams changed, and on days like the alarm day I would find a private spot to hover in. I’d let the little vibrations come in and out. I missed the people I used to know, with their secrets. I waited for the mailman, hoping for little traces to hop out of his bag, but there was nothing. “Well, you can’t hide your secrets from God or the person doing the laundry,” explained the taller one to the shorter one, when the shorter one woke up pounding and splotched from another dream. “So either get down and pray, or learn how to use the washing machine.” Now, when one of them had a dream, I liked to think about being alive, squatting over a campfire and peeing to put it out – laughing to my friends – the hottest piss in the history of pisses! The feeling of air moving on flesh, or heat on flesh, of dampness, of dryness on flesh. Thinking about my friends I would send out little vibrations down the road. The vibrations branched off, but the world is big so the vibrations would branch off again, and again, halving or even into thirds – and there are so many vibrations that they combine and become other things, not messages. I had an ear to the ground. But for days I would go shadowy, and lose all bother with the house. In the meantime the taller one stretched towards the sky, like taffy. In his world nothing changed from day to day. That is, except for the days when he too woke up pounding and splotched from a dream about God and His Glowing Body – yes, the Muscles and Holy Organs too. With my limbs in the various walls, I planned more little events for both of them. In the dreams I explained roads that go from house to house – until the roads or the houses collapse in or a city erupts. I explained about the quiet glow that begins in the core of another person. “This is love,” I told them, “and it follows with drastic vibrations. I could walk you there,” I said, even though I wouldn’t, I am bound to the wood here – but I am always playing tricks to camouflage my actual voice. “The world happens in numbers the human brain can’t count in,” I explained once to the shorter one, gently. “Either/or is not a holy construction but a human one.” Whether he could hear me or not, he made no sign. He just placed his plastic humans on either side of objects and pointed them at each other. “Pow,” he said. “Pow Pow.” I thought hard to remember what this word meant, but I have lost it, probably forever. “Michael,” said the taller one, “put your shoes on. We’re late.” When they left the house I got to do whatever I wanted. I thought often about knees and how undependable they were. And I thought about that glow, the one that begins in the core of another person and then follows with drastic vibrations. Is it true? I wondered. Tossing one of the plastic humans around the room, folding the shorter one’s socks, I wondered, is it true? And if so, how did I miss it? And if it’s not true, then why am I stuck here? And when – oh when – will it end?