It's nice to see you again. I like your face, even though like
this, in light like this, with shadows exercising against the angle
of your nose, you look like someone I've forgotten to remember.
A long time ago I took it upon myself to collect bags upon bags
of aluminum cans—all day, all night, picking through garbage
bins looking for the glare of aluminum to reflect in the sunlight.
I looked so hard, for so long, so many years gone by, that people
began to recognize me as the Can Collector, my funny little legs
going up and down on the pedals of my bicycle, bruises displayed
on the backs of my calves. It got to a point where I was no longer
doing my job of collecting cans, but the cans were doing the job
on me. Die schlange ist lange, die Sohn ist gelbe. "Kid's stuff,
that's what we call it," you said, your mouth full of peppery
chicken. I forgot what I was doing. The cans no longer seemed relevant.
I cannot exactly remember the instance
during which you disappeared, but I do know I seemed to have misplaced
you by a telephone booth as I hunkered over to retrieve yet another
can—your sputtering laugh disappeared, the cans multiplied.
To you I was not the Can Collector; when your mouth spoke to me
it called me by a name that I've now forgotten. Your absence, it
made itself so obvious; you and I had always found so many dull
and lifeless winters together—our shoes burrowed through the
same discolored snowdrifts, our stumbling and tripping always managing
to correlate with the laughter of nearby girls. Your laughter disappeared
along with theirs.
But it is nice to see you again. I
bought a copper-banded ring to remind myself of your return. Even
after I lost it in the rain, I was still pressed by your image in
the moss-green outline (the kind that copper often leaves behind—bruisey
and mottled) around my thumb. The greenness, it was like the aluminum
cans—like it really only represented something that was missing.
Faded logos maybe, orange and green—I only am able to recognize
objects by their color (yellow car, white stove)—and maybe
that's why I didn't truly recognize you until you started crying
and your face reddened. Red face, blue pay phone; like a movie set
the crew had abandoned.
There were no more soda cans after
their labels faded in the sunlight, and soon enough there was no
bicycle either. I never chained it up and perhaps the original owner
happened by and rode away, the water in the gutters making the hem
of his pants soggy. I took to the streets (white sneakers, red face,
black asphalt). When I told people I only walked and never ran,
they always had the same reaction: "I just can't phantom it."
Box hedges lined every sidewalk, and gray buses hurtled past me,
leaving behind dusty exhaust. I followed the hedges and the buses,
always ending up back in the same place: at the bottom-most steps
of your front porch.
I've wanted to tell you about Noah
in the closet. Ever since you've returned, I've been reminding myself
to tell you all about him and I've never quite understood why. You
remember him, I'm sure—we always helped him stack those cereal
boxes into the highest-placed cupboards, folding the paper bags,
the jagged teeth at their openings sliding across our fingertips.
Noah, he had a folding of brown hair that seemed to be stapled across
his head and he played the cello constantly. He disappeared suddenly—the
groceries grew in stacks and invaded his front porch. I hardly knew
him. I think you knew him better than I. He would have been glad
to see you back.
Once, after you'd left, I came to
his house to find him in a blue-checkered shirt sprawled out amid
the sheets of his bed, his hair curled upward against the pillows.
I had to give him water; he had been there for days, but the thing
that struck me was the smell arising from his body, like dead shit
if there were such a thing. I asked him if he was dying. I changed
his shirt for him—the discarded one lying on the floor. The
tag on the inside of the collar pulsated with words, contrasting
with its surroundings—the letters said something to me as
I reached down to gather some hastily misplaced quarters, those
words edging themselves into my peripheral glance; they read, "for
If Noah could have crawled inside
his cello, forever staring out through whiskery strings, the strange,
creaky boat feeling pressed against his spine, he would have. In
some way there was always that creeping low tremolo about him, a
sort of underbelly of sound squeaking like one's voice too close
to a microphone. Him, alone in his apartment, prying apart the skeleton
of his cello, and stepping inside as if testing out bathwater, closing
himself inside that tomb forever. Instead we found him in the closet,
his eyes blazing candies, as if he were dreaming to death from the
growing bars of strings, the aluminum glow from too-white shoe boxes
becoming that half-slant of moonlight that never ceases to slosh
onto the scene of death.
I think I understand why I wanted
to tell you about Noah—I always imagined that we would argue
over whether Noah's story belonged to you or me and I know now for
sure. Even though you weren't here at the time, I think I would
argue that you still have annexed that little scrap of narration.
I'm just trying to give you a fair chance at some hot property I
would normally snatch up without question—maybe the reason
I think this is because I insert myself into secondhand stories
in which half the time I don't even belong.
I've wandered myself into so many uncollected narratives. From
bicycling, my calves were constantly in a state of tantrumming,
making the hair on my shins rub offensively against my trousers.
I took this as permission to shave my own legs, finding the cool,
mentholated feel of my hairless calves a surprising comfort against
unfolded sheets. On the bicycle I was some sort of bent, out-of-shape
instrument—the bicycle was playing me, the aluminum cans were collecting
me. I began walking after I started relaying borrowed stories, my
own voice so startling and stabbing against empty alleyways, the
clouded gutters filled with dead birds and pinecones and my own
muddied reflection—my reflection, it seemed so displaced in the
street. I relocated it somewhere more visible.
You must be thinking that I can't
possibly remember all these details. I have nothing to do with it—I
don't do anything at all, I never remember anything in details or
adjectives, but rather as a simple exploration of where I should
belong in an unclaimed anecdote: ones I've stolen, but not exactly
stolen. The notion that I might be stealing only occurs to me when
I catch someone else doing it; taking my made-uppedness like another
abandoned can and pinning down a cardboard cutout of their own body
into the scene that doesn't belong to me, or them, or whoever—and
then, oh god, I almost can't stop myself from saying something grisly
to that greasy liar.
As for the anecdotes—there were a
few among favorites to be forgotten. The most popular one: the story
of a figure who turns up in every photograph that a young child
snaps. Across blue glaciers, along a wide, gray beach, in any sort
of colorful topography, this shadow shows up like a friendly stain.
The narrator could even provide said photographic evidence, drawing
her finger along the shadowed spine that seems blurred and invisible
in the too-bright burst of imagery. This anecdote, when relayed
to eager listeners, it comes of no use—it has usually been heard
It's so nice to see a friendly face.
I slowly realized somewhere in the midst of my vacations down gambled
streets that walking wasn't really allowing me to arrive anywhere.
I had no sense of direction if I wasn't on wheels. I'd chance upon
street names that began with the first letter of my name (whatever
it happened to be that day), peering into the windows of houses
where I was not wanted or invited, and afterward it all occurred
to me I'd missed out on months and months of can collecting. The
cans had clearly missed me, having started to flop around on the
streets, rattling around on the pavement like clamoring schools
of carp. They no longer seemed relevant, so I shifted my own unwanted
body onto the public bus system.
Since you weren't around to humor
my fantastical notions that I had an actual story to tell, I relayed
my unclaimed anecdotes to bussed strangers. Even if he or she weren't
scooped into the seat next to me, I'd talk anyway. "Your nose
is the best out of anyone's on this bus," I'd tell the passenger
next to me. I had nothing to reach for, and when that happens I
seem to have a bad habit of involving myself with something gimmicky—whether
it be wearing different colored buttons on my shirts or obsessing
over a street corner, I guess it doesn't matter, but the bus, the
stolen bicycle—gimmicks, all of them. And just like a gimmick,
they all grew out of their own too-short britches.
On the bicycle, my calves ached. Walking,
my feet ached. On the bus, there was nothing to ache so I invented
my hand over my mouth and pretended to make them ache.
Could you see me struggle at that point to wriggle out of my own
bus seat? During my travels down to every street I'd imagine the
steps of your house and whether I could still count them properly.
Where had you been lost? I imagined that you, too, were looking
for me, or collecting my cans for me. I concerned myself with so
many stories—but really, it wasn't working. Where were you in those
photographs I so proudly arranged for strangers to investigate?
I could see your feet shuffling across the background, your head
in a blizzard of a nod, but you were never home. Even after an offering
of photographic evidence, nearly every listener had heard the story.
Where was your home? Like everyone else's life, mine seemed chalked
up with sudden disappearance. Where do things disappear to that
we just had gathered? I was supposed to count on you to never disappear
from my side—or even from a photograph. Your presence had been
burned into paper and I should have depended on you to always be
there, always crossing the room, unrecognizable, unwanted—but as
I really inspected the photographs, you seemed to have been removed.
I felt so awesomely uncomfortable
being carriaged around on however many wheels toiled underneath
the frame of the bus—I would poke around in my pockets for
a cloth napkin to protect my cleanest trousers from sneezing passengers,
finding no napkin, and no utensils to weave between my pantomiming
fingers. To make things endurable I wrote myself notes. As soon
as I rolled into my bus seat I would place whatever note I had written
to myself under where I sat, just to the left of my feet, raise
my hand to my mouth (rustling out a cough), then extract the letter
from its place melodramatically as if it had been there the entire
time. The quick fanning of my hands would draw the attention of
my fellow commuters, their necks giraffing toward the letter in
my hand. Some days it would be a love letter: my eyes misting over
from feigned swooning, an isosceles swipe of blush bursting onto
the scene of my cheeks, my hand finding itself over my hollowed,
love-struck mouth. Other days it would be a violent blackmail, my
voice making shrieking obscenities, my hand sailing toward my neck
in horror (I learned after time that the importance of drawing attention
lay in the placement of my hands rather than the expression on my
After a few seasons of being merely
transported around, I came to an intersection where I felt as if
my own color had become somewhat faded, and therefore I became uninterestingly
invisible to my own self.
From a bus seat, one can stare out
at a centipede of cars—their drivers occupied in their own bubbles
of living space, picking their noses and taking exhaustive swigs
from convenience-store cups. Their faces appear as tiny featureless
lines and it's funny to think always, in these cases, like the cans
and my collecting them, that the vehicle usually outwits the driver.
Each destination appears the same from a bus seat, as if all are
driving to the same location—and maybe if I could concentrate enough
I could see my own body stilting along the sidewalk, shuffling through
leaves and dead insects on my way to the bottom-most steps of your
house. The buses, from the sidewalk, seem to be leaders of steel
and paint: their followers are the cars, the drivers mindlessly
turning the steering wheel with one hand, the other conducting the
desperate search for a decent talk-radio station.
From a bus seat, the automobile seems
to be the ultimate destination: after that, there isn't anywhere
left to go. The bicycling's been done, the walking's been done,
the bussing's been done—after being a driver, what else is left
to be transported that hasn't been transported already? In my own
experience of bussing, I found my gaze always set forth upon the
long march of traffic, my body twisted around to get a view of the
different colors of them all, the colors of their drivers, and it
seemed to me that behind the wheel was where you and I always really
wanted to be.
I've had very few experiences in a
car, even fewer as a driver. Once a woman paid me to sit in the
passenger seat and watch her drive herself to the airport. She didn't
speak a word nearly the entire time but kept checking her watch
every few minutes. Stilted? Statically, yes; even the radio couldn't
save us, the fingers on her hands sticking to the steering wheel
(they slipped from 9 and 3 to 10 and 2—at all hours of the day
except for one, whatever time advanced forward on that woman's watch).
I wasn't really sure what was happening. I couldn't think of any
scenarios more similar until she let loose her voice:
"What if my feet got stuck to
the gas pedal?"
Outside my window, I saw my face turn
red in the side mirror.
She shook her head, a frown wrinkled
into her chin.
"What if my hands couldn't leave
the steering wheel?"
I could not make my eyes stay on her
face. In the window my face became all the more apple-colored.
"What if we couldn't leave the
And she seemed serious enough to make
it a valid question. After proposing such a ridiculous scenario,
she sighed dreamily, as if living forever behind a steering wheel
and a windshield might be glorious and tropical, all greenhoused
like a fern. But now I'm remembering the real part of this anecdote—during
the drive I told her the story of the figure in the photographs
and she nodded her head enthusiastically as I spoke. I even withdrew
the photographic evidence, tracing my finger once again along the
muted colors of this mystery person. She looked at the photographs
intensely, the vacant stretch of the highway seeming to loom and
grow before us.
"You dolt," she said, "that's
To get you to return was so simple it took me a few minutes to
realize that I'd succeeded. I walked by one of those old, familiar
houses that we had both previously admired—and what should
I see but your recognizable stance hunched over a pay phone, your
legs crooked into an out-of-balance A, the greasy earpiece of the
phone crushing your red cheek against your nose. You were clearly
crying with that red face. You didn't hear me as I sneaked up behind
you and you almost seemed to be posing, like a mannequin busied-up
with selling a blue-checkered shirt. I picked lint patiently from
the slope of your shoulder as I waited for you to finish your silent
The streetlights flickered on after
a while. You still hadn't turned around to notice me and right then
I could feel my own cheeks growing hot, my fingers rustling through
my pockets for the photographic evidence—you clearly weren't
going to entertain my fabrications, or even look at me for that
matter. And then I let it escape from me, the repeated words dominoing
over each other until they were transformed into a monotone moan
with no meaning.
What I said was this:
"Be here now."
we three will ride