After all that, there’s nobody even fucking here. They called me and texted me. They summoned me in. I called. I’m coming, I said. I’m coming. So they went home.
What a day. Wet shoes (can you hallucinate damp?), footage footage footage girl in footage, Yves so sad and his Georgian wine, Mal angry with me or sad with me, and now here I am again.
No more energy drinks in the fridge: damn you, Marcus.
Walking back from the kitchenette I see sleet coming down outside in the orange lights. It’s the worst kind of weather, neither one thing nor the other.
What the hell fucking time is it anyway?
I should get to it. The sooner I start the sooner I something.
I bet when I was at dinner Mariflores trundled by, humming, pushing her cart with the Virgin Mary stuck to it, the bucket with “Mariflores” written on it in flowery black marker so that no one takes her bucket. She works two cleaning jobs, living in a basement with her kids, and I complain. But she didn’t pick up my Thai food I ordered on the desk stinking up the place. Look at that: the fat in the duck curry is congealed now. I should throw it out. Spot of creamy red curry sauce on my Berubo timepiece, wipe that off.
The Berubos have no word for the present. The closest they have is “After-yesterday and before-tomorrow.” There’s a logic to that. Sometimes I feel like I live in the past, except for when I’m worrying about the future. What’s the present? A fiction. A jumble. No such thing; it’s where you work. The Berubos are more alert to the ways our heads are turned forwards and turned back, our inability to live in the bare day as it is. One of my notebooks, one of the notebooks I’m supposed to be typing up, is full of my notes about their temporal grammar. They face the disappearance of their language and culture with a distant grin, as though it had happened a long time ago already, to someone else. Though they’re famous for their sense of humour, the Berubos. I sometimes wonder to what extent they were tricking me all along. They knew I was interested in their temporal grammar because I kept asking them about it, to the point that Aghlinki started calling me by the name “When?,” fingering her timepiece. This was before she gave me her timepiece, of course; piece of her, piece of me. Then things changed. I can imagine old Aroustep walking with Aghlinki, one day when I was sitting in my hot tent, walking and watching for the birds to start picking at the tree bark which meant the white plums were coming, and then smiling at her: “Tell him we have no sense of the present, daughter.” She would have grinned. Sometimes a person’s timepiece was the representation of their soul, like a wooden avatar; but then sometimes it seemed more like a calendar, that could be twisted and rotated in accordance with the seasons. Sometimes it seemed like a curse around their necks, an alien thing they wanted to be rid of. But then sometimes they put seeds in them. I never understood the Berubos, anything about them, perhaps.
Take out my phone to make a subnote in my file about me reminding myself to check where their concept of nostalgia for the future is in my draft.
Okay, I’m going to start working again now. Get through this. Any minute.
I have no time, and I waste time. I’m aware of the contradiction, but thanks. Maybe it’s a way of exerting some control.
Picking my nose rather than working. I have a file of monkey moves too. Monkey moves: when you’re on the subway, scratching at your skull. Picking away at that last bit of turkey sub in your back teeth. Finger in nose, finger down asscrack. The woman with her hand in her son’s hair. We do a lot of grooming, without realizing it. Basically we’re monkeys with a distorted sense of time. We carry bugs.
Hey that reminds me what I like about the garbage project is the sense of history. I’d like to require everyone to watch this footage, of themselves. No, what I mean is, if instead of your garbage sitting in a bin on your deck or in your garage all week, what if you had to watch it all pile up in front of you, steaming mountain of plastic, goldfish, hair clippings, receipts, yoghurt tubs, coltan, Charlie’s Angels DVDs, gunk, and it was only taken away once a year… Like when there’s a garbage strike, you throw away less, I think.
Okay, forget it, focus, I’m getting started.
And yet as you get older the time seems to go by faster and faster: I feel like I just got back from Sumatra last week, but it’s been three years.
Also if you had to see where everything you buy actually comes from, if you had to meet the people who assembled each phone, who painted each door frame, if you actually saw how much energy and oil and water and effluent went into each Big Mac. Well you would buy less, I think, and each would matter more.
Coco. There was something wispy about her, no, not wispy, the opposite of wispy. Not that she would have any interest in a person with a day job. And I’m taken, anyway. But still. She’s functioning at a different level. Kind of a philosopher perhaps. I keep expecting I’ll pick a giant book up off Marcus’s coffee table in his office and it’ll be all pictures of her. That a documentary about her will be playing at TIFF.
Ruminate on Coco.
Hey! Wake up. Open your eyes.
I can pull that footage up of her again. That’s like practically working: I’m looking at footage. What is it about her? How still she is. Watch her watch me for a while. Here I am. And she was at the dinner.
Now that screen goes to the Acuatrivia screensaver, the triangular A, stretched to the right like a windsurfer with the wind blowing into the sail, so that it always looks like it’s turning into an ominous B. Consciously I whack the left arrow to be rid of it.
Oh look, according to the internet Jose Tortas pitched his second no-hitter of the year in Venezuelan Minor League ball. That’s interesting. According to the internet—
There’s always more, on the internet.
Can’t find what I’m looking for, on the internet.
Maybe what I’m looking for isn’t on the internet?
I wake up with my cheek on the desk and my hand in my pocket.
Dreamed of that big vein in Marcus’s forehead throbbing like when he came back from that budget meeting last week. Dreamed Marcus was marrying Mal. Christ.
Iron Age burial mound: peat and urine: the inside of my mouth.
Four calls. Nine texts. Eight emails. One tweet. Two updates. Christ. It’s past four a.m. Christ.
Reach down before stretching and yawn and—well, well.
There’s a box in my sweater pocket.
It’s light, lighter than it ought to be.
It is the colour of a swimming pool at night.
I got Mal a promise ring, an I’m-going-away ring before I left for Sumatra, spent my whole student loan on it, and it came in a box this colour, though the stone was orange. She still wears it, sometimes, to birthdays and dinners, though not tonight, because the last time she did, Ina clucked: “Still same ring?”
Holding it up to the desk light I see the box is ornate, sealed with a grey ribbon. With something old-fashioned about it. The surface is tattooed, embossed in fact, with small silver capital letters that glisten marvellously. It says “Phil” and my surname and a long way down at the bottom there is a string of numbers ending in 418 and above that a line in quotation marks like it’s from a poem or a book: “There is no night, there is no day.” In beautiful calligraphy. These guys, they go to a lot of trouble.
I sit back. I try to piece my day together. It’s hard to think at this time of night, with this brick throbbing in my head, but I’m a little more alert. I remember going down the stairs. I remember Lionel. I have a sense of this box making me happier or more productive. They left me alone. Then it gets a bit blurrier. Oh, I think it probably got bad at the dinner, and the girl from the footage was there, Christ, and then Yves having his moment. But this box I want for reasons I cannot state.
I cross my right leg over my left leg and then my left leg over my right leg.
I pull at the grey ribbon and it comes very easily, as if it had been waiting for me, as if it had been willing itself to be opened, as if it doesn’t want to give me the choice. The lid opens gently. Inside, I see a hinge, and two small black metal Victorian wheels.
I lift it up, and breathe in, a scent of cloudy dust. A rustle. Inside, nestled there, there is a small rock crystal, like crystal sugar perhaps, on a bed of velvet. Hard there, it shines at me, black and white and brown. I look at it for a long time, watching it watch me, watching it shine. This black material absorbs light, but the walls of the blue box come alive with reflections. It’s alive, it’s full of life.
I make my fingers small to pick it up, and it feels hard and sharp, but under it this black sand is softer than anything I’ve ever touched, it’s velvet made of saffron sifted into layers over centuries, decanted into a square bed, soft and hard on my fingertips. The rocky pearl is cold, and the cold seems to spread into my fingers, up my arm.
What shall I do.
I have a strange sense that this has happened before. I have sat here before, at this desk, breathing in this air, touching this pearl. I have sat at this desk before, looking at this box. This has happened to me before.
I shake my head to clear it.
The air, there was a scent of lavender.
I hold it for a moment.
Quickly I put the crystal in my mouth. Instantly it starts to dissolve. First it tastes like nothing. Then it tastes like oil; then it tastes like the sea; and then it is lovely.
There are silver traces of dust on my fingers; just a memory of dust.
I close my eyes.
It’s happened before, all of this.
The bitter sugar feels very cool for a last moment under my tongue, and then it’s gone.
It’s like night-time, like the past, like me. Like Coco, like nothing. At the start it was like Slovenian liquor: a rictus halts your jaw, a warmth spreads in your gullet, down into your chest. I felt it warm me as it fell. I could almost see my lungs light up in blue below. At the start, something was happening to me, something I had not known for a long time was coming back to me. And then all I could think about was that loop: this is what’s coming back to me, what’s coming back to me is this. I’ve had this experience before of something coming back to me, it was just like this…
Perhaps I’m trying to protect a mystery.
Afterwards, I could hear the air coming out of the vents. I could hear the hum of electricity in the wires, the sound I usually only notice when it is gone. I could hear the blood pumping in my chest and in my neck, I could feel the walls of my heart open and close, and hold my blood inside and warm it, and force it out once more, again and again. Afterwards, I felt my feet on the solid floor, and I thought of the sky moving, the stars in their transit, a long way outside. I saw the sky. I breathed in the cool air. Things simply were. Before I’d forgotten, but after, I remembered.
Afterwards, I felt so good. Just for a moment I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t worried, because I wasn’t myself; just for a moment. Just for a moment I had no fears. I was here, just for a moment. I was in my life, or I was not. It didn’t matter. You need to be reminded. You get so caught up in the world otherwise. You need to remember. I had stopped. I felt good. It’s only when the noise stopped that I realized how noisy it always is, in my head.
Then it’s not that tough once you get started. I work on six screens, mark up the tags in no time at all. There’s a way to transfer three levels of subnotes to reporting documents that Pollie told me about, but I’ve never been able to do it. Now I can figure it out. I can think. Nothing interrupts me. Each key goes down crisply; the wheel stops the footage precisely at the frame I need, each time. Moving fast, it moves slowly. I have a fountain pen, with my name on the lid, that Mal gave me for writing up my notes on the Berubos. It feels solid in my grasp. Finishing my week’s worth of work I feel satisfaction.
On the screen there she is again, watching and waiting. That’s satisfaction too. Coco, looping. These two things are somehow connected. Like this is how it is for Coco, all the time. She doesn’t worry. She doesn’t fret. She simply is.
Because I’ve never felt anything like it.
My Berubo timepiece was whirring slightly on the desk, anti-clockwise, backwards.
Hours could have passed.
Then I look at my sleeve.
Holy shit, I think. Does this stuff really work?