Some days his work took him into people's houses. He
would enter a room, part the air, odor things differently, then
come out with whatever it was. Never a word of thanks from
anybody, but he would usually get asked if he needed to use the
bathroom—a powder room, more often than not. He would picture
the owners listening to the flushes, counting.
He lived with a woman who volunteered at the library and
brought a different book home every night. She would sit with
it open on her lap and work the tip of an uncrooked paper clip
into the gutter where the facing pages met, prying things
loose: fingernail peelings, eyebrow hairs, pickings and
outbursts and face-scrapings. Anything on the plane of the
page itself—the immediate heedless presence of the previous
reader in the form of abundances of shed hair, perhaps, or gray
powderings of scalp—she swept onto the floor. She evacuated
the books, then ran the vacuum cleaner. In the morning, the
book went back to the library.
The man had his own chair and watched her like a hawk.
There were a few years of cordial intimacy with the woman,
and then her teeth began to lose their way in her gums. They
listed and slid. The sticky hair she had always combed into a
canopy over her forehead started to droop, and the color went
dim. Her eyes seemed to take him in less and less.
One morning she was nowhere the man could see. Most of
the clothes she had liked were gone, too.
He called in sick.
He sat in his chair watching the kitchen from the hour
when the table was a breakfast table to the hour when it was a
He started buying hewspapers—anything he could get his
hands on, one of each. There were some papers that came out
only once a week and printed the menus of the senior-citizen
high-rises in town. These he tore out and taped to the
refrigerator door as ideas, suggestions.
The grocery store where he bought the papers was not part
of a chain. The floor dipped and sloped. The aisles started
out as ample causeways, veered off, then narrowed down to
practically nothing. There were vitrines back there. Display
cases. Nobody seemed particular about what went into them.
The man started bringing things to add.
Her shoes, with the gloating, mouthy look that shoes
acquire when no longer occupied.
Her stockings, riveted and unpleasant to touch.
Sheet after sheet of her swaying penmanship.
Numbers she had piled high onto graph paper.
One night he called the home number of the man who lined
up the jobs for him.
"Yes," the voice said, over TV noise.
He put the phone down. Her smoking and sewing tackle were
on the telephone stand. He put them in a bag to take to the
The sleeplessness spread to his arms and his legs. He
practiced removing her absence from one place and parking it
somewhere else. There was too much furniture in the house, he
The town was one whose name the citizens never had to
spell out on the envelope when paying a bill or sending a card
locally. Instead, they could just write "City." Then came a
generation who grew up suspecting there were two different
places—one a town, the other a city—with the same sets of
streets and addresses. These people were less sure of where
they lived and spent too much time deciding whether the shadows
that fell across sidewalks and playgrounds were either too big
or too little for whatever the shadows were supposed to be
shadows of. These were people who dreamed of towers that would
never quite stay built even in the dreams.
Depending on which sources the man read, he could be
counted as part of either generation.
The only other thing ever known about him was that when it
came time to take his car in for the annual inspection, he sat
in a little waiting area off to the side of the garage. A
mechanic came in and told him that they had gone ahead and put
a sticker on the car, but there were oral disclaimers about the
brakes, the tires. "I don't know what kind of driving you do,"
the mechanic said. "Is it mostly around here, or highway'?"
"Highway," the man said.
Weeks went by before he thought to stop.
from the Lutz website at WDS
street map of the continent