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)
THIS IS PART TWO.
PART ONE APPEARED IN DIAGRAM 4.6; PART THREE WILL APPEAR IN DIAGRAM 5.2.
The Living:   
A New Manifesto:    
Putting things — trophies, canned goods, all of it — in boxes brings about a different kind of contact with the house than I have experienced so far. More than Tito and Wellbutrin, I have poked around the places we have owned. But, other than when Wellbutrin has made meals, none of us has interacted with the houses as functional spaces. Even camera installation has treated the houses as dead, empty rooms.
We have not had to make room for things, look under beds, or gather loose items from corners and closets. I feel like I understand the wrinkles and limitations of this space in a way that, with the first properties, I was only guessing.
Wellbutrin is working like I am, paying as much attention to the house as he is to the items he gathers. When he looks at me, he smiles. When he looks at Tito, he seems on the brink of saying something.
Tito isn't bothering to find places to stow the goods, content for now to fill boxes, one after the next. There is an efficiency in his movements, as if his mind and his body are finally working at the same blistering pace. He is graceful. He jumps to take things off of a shelf that should be too tall for him. He balances an armload and pivots to his box. When it is more convenient, he throws, never missing.
"Boyfriend," says Wellbutrin.
Tito doesn't stop. If he listens, or disapproves of Wellbutrin's timing, he doesn't give any indication. Still, he is working hard enough that it seems lazy to be talking at all.
"Mickey Fundus," I say. I wait for a wisecrack, but most of the jokes in the old boyfriend game come from Tito. Wellbutrin puts a couple of board games into his box sideways, so they stick out of the top. He is chewing on the syllables of the name, as if I had recommended a chiropractor.
"He was in acupuncture," I say. "When I was shooting The Last Train Leaves Early, I sprained my ankle. He was called in to get the swelling down. He figured out the gender stuff when one of the needles needed to go into my knee. He said I had girls' knees. I asked him out, and we went to a drive-through. A space movie. Our only date."
I wait for anyone of a number of jokes but none come. Tito is taking down a gaudy clock. Wellbutrin is looking in his box, deep in imagining.
Eventually, we have enough boxes that they are in the way. Tito isn't willing to give up another room to storage. He and Wellbutrin have moved the furniture to the supply room off the garage. He wants the house to seem big and complicated, lots of nuance, completely empty.
For a while, Tito tries to find ways to hide the boxes, one or two at a time, in rooms we will be shooting. He looks for off-camera corners and closets we can afford to keep closed. Wellbutrin and I are willing to help, but Tito doesn't let us know how. He paces and flexes his hands. Occasionally he hops up and down, as if he were trying to keep his feet warm.
"Think," he says.
It occurs to me that he has not said a single incomprehensible thing since the decision was made. Watching him rub his chin, he strikes me as an alternate version of himself. Even as pulls at one ear while fiddling with the zipper of his sweatshirt, something he always does, he seems different. I wonder if his mood — this solitude and purpose — is completely new for him, or if this was what he was like before us.
He exhales loudly, self-consciously, shaming us for not thinking as hard as he is.
Eventually he gives up and decides we will have to keep the boxes with us. He picks up two boxes and heads for the Nike bedroom, where we will be staying during the broadcast.
Wellbutrin and I follow, one box each. Tito does not wait. Before we have dropped our stuff, he is going back downstairs for more, despite the fact that we have boxes in every room. I'm not sure they will all fit, but Tito moves so fast that questions would be mutiny. Wellbutrin and I, in unspoken consensus, stick to fetching boxes on the same floor as the bedroom.
Without fingers, my hands are unsteady. My boxes need to be light. It is hard to tell, just looking, if I will be able to manage. It's not a question of strength but of leverage. I can get most of them into the air, before they begin to topple one way or the other, and Wellbutrin needs to lurch over and help me get them back down.
"Boyfriend," he says, the third or fourth time I pick up the same, awkward box. "One from after the accident," he says. I smile at him, as I try a new box and manage to keep it from tipping.
"How do you know I'm not out of those?"
"You're never out," he says.
"I'd rather tell you about Squid Lawson," I say, starting toward the bedroom. "He played hockey, goalie, for a men's team in Kentucky. His real name was Jay. If they didn't call him Squid, they called him Kentucky Jay. He was only sixteen, they were all thirty. They were the only team he could play for, the only team in Louisville. I met them all shooting Stranger Death. Something about how he played, how reckless he was, I don't know. We never had sex, but we kissed a lot, ate lunch together for several weeks. I'm not positive he was straight."
We go back and forth, piling up boxes, along the wall. I hand them to Wellbutrin so he can get them high, but the boxes don't stack well, odds and ends sticking out.
I am not sure what will happen to all of it when we sell the place.
I imagine the family, the girl with black hair.
I know they gathered everything they thought they would regret leaving, that they have enough money — thanks to Tito — to replace the rest. But there is the diploma, the trophies, several books of photos. Surely, we have as many of their keepsakes as they do. I wonder if they will regret leaving so fast, if they will buy new evidence of their past, try to replace ribbons from first-grade wrestling tournaments.
When the boxes have all been gathered, we barely have enough space left to set up the computer. Luckily, the bedroom is attached to the bathroom so Tito's toilet stays in the van. When we start broadcasting, we will share the bed.
For now, I am trying to sleep in it.
It is far more comfortable than my bedroll, but it could be softer.
I'm not sure what's happening in the room next to mine.
I only have lurid conjecture. Noises and muffles.
After we finally got the cameras installed, Tito finally stopped pacing. For the first time all night, he could see us again, especially Wellbutrin — he stared at him, at the loose form of his body. For his part, Wellbutrin seemed eager to accept whatever Tito was offering.
I don't hear them all the time, just an occasional thump and giggle. If these were not my last hours alone for almost two days, I would consider investigating. I would fetch something from the kitchen before creeping up to their door.
As it is, I am more interested in myself.
For a while, when I lost the fingers, I was sexless.
I became less interested in other bodies, more compelled by the details of my own.
Tonight, I imagine floating on a sea of hands.
I wake up to Tito rummaging through boxes at the foot of my bed.
"Morning," he says, smiling. He is no less efficient than last night, but he is somehow less aggressive. He picks up items, one after the next. Most end up back in boxes.
Though there is less of a path to the door than there was before I fell asleep, I am able to get to the bathroom where I wash my face with soap and use the black-haired girl's toothbrush. She is in the back seat of a car, running her tongue over her teeth. She is unused to them feeling filmy, so slick. She uses a hand to smell her breath. She is half-disgusted, ashamed that it is coming from her mouth, but she doesn't stop smelling it, cupping her hand every few miles.
Her name is Theresa.
I am sure of it.
She is on her way to California.
Back in the bedroom, Tito is still sitting, cross-legged in front of a box. He holds a pocket watch, weighing it, testing the strength of its chain, before setting it aside.
"What are you doing?"
"I changed my mind," he says. "The house needs ethos."
He winks at me. It is a literal gesture, without irony, unlike anything I have seen from him. It is clear that he will not give a further explanation. I am guessing that he no longer wants the house completely empty, that he wants a few items strategically arranged — the pocket watch, a pair of binoculars, things he is putting into a pile — stuff that defines its owner as being having varied, worthwhile interests.
"But Browder didn't live here last," I say. "This stuff isn't his."
"No one knows anything about him," he says. He is almost polite. "You've all but said so. No one knows he didn't leave it exactly like this. If we are remembering a person no one remembers, there is no photograph to compare against the picture we draw."
He picks up an antique flask. He sniffs it before adding it to his pile of keepers. He gets up smoothly, a sort of twist without using his hands, and moves to trade his box for another. When he sits down again, and gets it open, the box is full of books. He takes them out, one after the next, flipping through them, knocking dust off against his pants.
"He wouldn't have read any of this," he says.
"Where's Wellbutrin?" I ask.
"Downstairs," he says, "painting the office."
I go find him.
The room is about ten by sixteen with a simple square window that shows the highway. A large, wooden desk — faded towards orange — has been pushed into the center of the room from a corner where the carpet is still flat.
Wellbutrin is on a stepladder, painting a single wall pink.
I want to ask him how Tito talked him into it, but he is moving so smoothly that I suspect he no longer objects. Watching — the long, vertical motion of his roller, the little snap of his wrist at the top and bottom of each pass — I realize that the room was his idea.
I would like to decorate Theresa's room in yellow. I know we don't have time, and Tito wouldn't go for it. Still, I would like to put daisies in a glass vase on the windowsill. I would like to leave her favorite animals on the bed. I would like — if by some miracle, she were to see the broadcast — I would like her to know we have not forgotten.
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