REAL-TIME VIDEO OF DEAD PEOPLE YOU WANT TO HAVE COFFEE WITH: A NOVELLA
(SERIALIZED AND BROKEN UP INTO SECTIONS FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE, AS DENOTED BELOW)
Prologues and Stars:  
Ghostboy Dies in Tragic Mishap:   
Interzone:   
TO BE CONTINUED IN DIAGRAM 5.1
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"Come on," Tito says to the box, "go back outside." He is a small man, too small for his thinking — his body seems to flap in the steam of his ideas. He rocks in his chair, kicking his feet in a lopsided rhythm. He pulls at an ear with one hand while the other plays with the zipper of his red sweatshirt. The cameras switch back and forth automatically, randomly, but he obviously has his favorites. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," he says when the meteors come back on-screen. "Choke on the fatty cords of your forgetting."
He is speaking to America again. He is a Marxist, though he swears it's several prefixes more complicated than that. His part in our undertaking is strictly political. For him, the images — the empty house, Stafford's former property — all of it is a revolution of memory. He says that memory is a petri dish for love cells. He says that consumerism is the religion of amnesia. He says that by sending this footage into your home — even if you aren't watching —the three of us are the supernova remedy to the twenty-first century, a madcap antidote to a madcap poison.
Wellbutrin is taller than Tito, and heavier. For him, our purpose in these houses is educational. We are in the business of exhumation and re-animation, bringing an author's work to contemporary life by providing the context of his or her living.
When we finish the thirty-six hour broadcast — all of the houses get a day and a half — he will write an essay, posted on the website. He has explained to us, several times, what he will say about Stafford. He will talk about plain language, words as small and versatile as linguistic atoms or DNA, words as simple as rocks.
As soon as the meteors started, Wellbutrin gave another lecture, this time about a single poem. In the poem, a star hits California, in the hills behind Stafford's house. The rock is shown over television, and roped-off, available for viewing during business hours. When Stafford goes to investigate, he is told classified information by a security guard. He begins to wonder what it would take to be the guard, to have his job. The guard explains that, among other things, one must swear allegiance to the state of California. Stafford resists, holding out the possibility that, if a star were bigger than the state, he might swear allegiance to it instead.
Eventually, Stafford agrees to remain loyal to California.
In his lecture, Wellbutrin made it clear that Stafford was bullied. He said the poem was about the unknown, about the difference between you and me, about uncertain futures mitigated by the state.
Though I thought it was all a little too close, the last part caught Tito's attention and, together, he and Wellbutrin rallied around their respective, abstract ideas of our project, equal parts revolution and junior-high field trip.
In textbooks, history is a garage sale, a gaudy collection of half-broken toys and funny clothes that couldn't possibly fit anymore. We put it on acid free paper. We want it to be preserved, embalmed, restored.
We film costume dramas and dramatic reenactments. Every year several thousand people dressed in historically accurate Civil War uniforms rush down hills and across fields, in the same formations used by running men a hundred and fifty years ago.
With no one dying, the war is a lot of fun.
I think that what we're doing here is simple.
We're giving you a lengthy glimpse inside houses where the once-famous were once alive.
We're looking for ghosts.
Stare long enough and any place is haunted.
To be honest, I don't really care about the specifics of these houses. My interest in the past is about proof that it existed at all. I've never had memories of grandparents. I can't imagine my own parents as having been children, because I never really saw them age. Part of me still has a hard time believing that Shakespeare wasn't my seventh grade English teacher making it up, writing the next scene while we were playing on the tornado slide. Even my own childhood seems like a fabrication.
None of this should matter, but I am afraid of death.
I remember how it started. There was a time when I wasn't scared, and then suddenly, irrevocably, I was. I was six when it happened. I was still Theresa. I didn't start acting for another year. My parents were alive for another four.
At school, I learned the sun would swallow the earth in several hundred thousand years — I don't remember how long — right before its own death. Even though I knew I would be gone long before the sun exploded, the image of it expanding, swallowing the earth in fire, and then receding into blackness, provided the cinematography for my first nightmares.
Soon after, I discovered the Big Bang. I was every bit as frightened by a sudden beginning as I was by a quicksand end. Instant history was as scary as the final, vanishing chapter.
I am here, in these houses, because I want proof of a back-story. I want prologues, not just for our subjects but for all of us. I want evidence that Tito has been a gazelle, a thousand butterflies. I want to know that Wellbutrin has taken handfuls of water from every river in Austria, dug for silver in mines that have been closed a hundred years. I want a trap door before conception, a three-act play on the other side of the opening stage directions.
I see the meteors and I want to know where they came from, what they were before our atmosphere. Watching them, it occurs to me that even with different histories, they fall the same way.
One after the next, they become stories about fire.
I don't know if it is psychosomatic, or if I'm allergic to the room, or if I just forgot how to breathe, but I am coughing. I try to steady, but I suck in more dust — I can see it puff in and out of my mouth and nose. I cough harder. I feel my lungs heaving, heavy with the gritty air. My hands push against Tito and Wellbutrin so that I won't lose my balance. I stagger and sway.
Eventually, when I don't stop, the others have to turn to me. For almost a minute they look startled and uncertain, unprepared for dealing with my physical body. Tito gets a bottle of water to my lips. I try to swallow, but my tongue is arid, and I am still hacking. Most of the drink spits into the air. Tito doesn't give up, trying in vain to keep it close to my mouth. He is persistent but easily spooked, like he's poking a stick at something poisonous.
When the coughing finally subsides, my shirt is completely wet. Without a change of clothes in the pantry, there is nothing to do but take the bottle of water between my hands and sit down. Tito and Wellbutrin immediately turn back to the box.
The camera switches.
I watch the old rock, the new, new light.
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