This is Here and All Over

This is Here and All Over

A novel excerpt from A Wave, A Wash

                                                            By Ben Slotky

 

It starts with a pubic hair. It starts with a horse. A sign and a letter. A map, a dot of glue. It starts with giants, it starts with Jews. It starts in Atlanta, in Dallas. Where you are. It starts with a shirt. A cloud.  With hands and fingers. With babies. It starts in the morning, in the dark. It starts with a tunnel, in a parking lot. It starts with a crocodile. With a woman, with an awning. A touch and a touch. It starts like everything starts, you think. In fits and in bits. And these fits and bits, these starts and starts, they add up. A thing becomes a thing and then another thing. Adding and accumulating. Dispersing and assembling. Merging and combining. Ascending and rising and no starts and no stops. It starts and has started. Increments, stages. A this and a this and a this. It floats by. A wave, a wash. It starts with dawn creeping. With sun rising. With clouds. Impending and looming. Passing close by. That’s how it starts, you think, because it has to start somewhere. Even if it doesn’t, you think. Even if it hasn’t, you think. It starts like this every day.

Where you are is here.  A building on a campus. One of many. Lettered and named. Differentiated and distinct.  Vast and interconnected. A sprawl, an expanse.  There are windows and walkways. Bricks and glass. Inside people are walking, walking. The campus is vast and immense. It is one of many. Spread out. Buildings numbered. Campus and trees. Perfectly mowed lawns. Sprinklers, flowers, landscaping. All that goes in to this, you think. To maintain, to perpetuate. All that has to happen, you think.

You are in the middle of the country. Flatness and horizon. The company is old. A hundred years. There is history here, you think. There are ghosts here, you think. You are intimidated by history. There are places rich with significance, other places. Places that aren’t here. Places with significance, you think.

Resonance, you think, grandeur.

It would be too much, you think, to be around all of this history.

It would be too much, you think. The weight of it. The weight of possibility.

It is better to be here, you think. You think this every day. In the middle, in the midst. Surrounded and ensconced. Flatness and horizon. Again and again.

Rote and memory.

You hide in the anonymity, in the ubiquity. This is everywhere, this is everything, and you are walking, walking. This is where this starts, in a parking lot, on a corporate campus. You are in the L lot.

You are establishing a scene.

Differentiating and positioning. A this in relation to another this. There are indoor parking lots and outdoor parking lots. Garages. Thousands and thousands of people work where you work. Every day and every day. You live in L. You park in the L lot, the outside one. You are walking in. It is dark. Dark because it is early. It is cold. Breath and fog. You look at the building. Glass dark and dark glass. You see if you can see in. You can see you can’t. That is where you are going, you think. You make a face that looks like pointing. You may nod. Slightly, imperceptibly. An acknowledgement. A man passes you. You see his breath. His and yours. All of it rising. Black jeans and white tennis shoes. His shirt is tucked in. It says support the arts. There is a toothpick in his mouth. A toothpick, you think. A slim piece of wood. Crafted and designed. Sold and purchased. Intentional, you think. To pick teeth, you think. Toothpicks pick teeth, you think. These words fit. These sounds do. Picks pick teeth. You think aligning, you think symmetry. Sounds merging, clicking and clacking. Fitting together. He is ahead of you. You are both walking. The two of you walking. You see him, see his breath. Breath rising and rising. You see him badge in. He touches his badge on the sensor. The sensor on the door. To identify, to prevent. To log and to track. To allow and deem worthy. A rectangle on another rectangle. A thing on another thing. There is an exchange. Somewhere hidden, somewhere separate. Data is exchanged, transmitted. Coded and decoded. Analyzed. A process, a procedure. You think protocols, you think if this then that. Determinations. A thing and a thing then another thing. There is a click, there is a buzz.

The revolving door turns. Spins and whirs. Glass appears and disappears. Black glass and black glass. The man with the toothpick disappears into the building. You wonder if you have ever seen him before. You wonder if you would remember that, a man in a parking lot. A man with a toothpick. Like a character, you think. You look and he is gone. Doors spinning, doors revolving. Enveloped and gone. Gone into where he is going, gone into where you are going. Gone into the same, into the glass and the black. You can see your reflection in the glass. You can see yourself encroaching, growing. Coming into focus. You can see yourself in the glass, in the mirror. You are here and you are there. Coming into focus. Clarifying, distilling.  Sharpening and honing. Merging. You start thinking about rubbing your stomach. You start thinking about the pubic hair. You wonder if it is there. Black and incongruous. In L, in M. In a campus, in buildings. In K and H. R and M. A black on a white. A stark contrast. A thing and a thing, you think. An opposition. This is what you are thinking, you think, as you walk in, as you get closer and bigger.

You are thinking reflection in mirror.

You are thinking one pubic hair.

Stemming, flowing, emanating. Connecting and combining. You badge in. The door spins. You step in the dark and the black. You start walking to where you need to be. There are meetings. Sit-downs and stand-ups. There are entries in calendars. Populated by an unseen math, an unknowable energy. You are inside now. You may be late, you think. It is already so early and it is already so late.

 

This is where you are. Now you are walking up stairs. Now there is a clock, a sign. The sign says L1. Each floor is designated and delineated. To distinguish, you think. To clarify. There are places you need to be, spaces that need filling. If you are not there, there is nothing there. There would be nothing without you, without any of you, without all of you, you think, and you know how this sounds. People have to be places for there to be places to be, you think, and you know that’s wrong. You are in a stairwell. You are still walking up. You scratch your head or make a face that looks like you’re about to scratch your head. This is what people would see if they saw you, that would be your face. This got away from you, you think, the way things do. If you catch just parts of it, you think. Glimpses of it as it goes by. Hurtling and fleeting. You can make out bits, you can make out pieces. All of it could add up.

And maybe, you think.

And somehow, you think.

A thing you think people should know is this. A blue whale can eat up to 9,000 pounds of krill every day.

This is a fact.

Verifiable.

Monstrous and wonderful.

This is where you are.

You are in L1. You are where monsters swim the seas. Monsters that eat tons upon tons of tiny shrimp. There are monsters, you think, and we all know there are. You can say a thing like a blue whale can eat up to 9,000 pounds of krill every day and people will accept it. Calmly and completely. Fully. If you say this to people, about the blue whale and the krill, people will nod.

They will say wow or whoa. Those are the sounds they would make. You can hear them saying this, hear the sounds.

If you almost ran into them, they’d say ope and whoop.

You imagine almost running into somebody and then telling them about the blue whale and the krill. They would say ope, whoop, wow, whoa. Those would be the sounds they make if that happened, you bet, and you think about trying that out. An experiment, you think. A trick.

One time you were walking down the hall with Jordan. You were walking. He was wheeling in his chair. There were two women in front of you. One tall, one shorter. Indeterminate. One says to the other, “I really need to start eating more shrimp.” She has a pained look on her face. This has been troubling her. She has been thinking about this, her face says, about how she needs to start eating more shrimp. She is pained by it, troubled by her lack of shrimp-eating. The other one, the taller or shorter one, looks at the other one as she’s saying this. She has a pained look on her face, too. She is nodding. Slightly and imperceptibly. A series of small nods as she walks, looking at the other woman’s face. There is empathy, there is understanding. She knows the other woman really needs to start eating more shrimp. This has been troubling her, she is glad the other woman said this. Finally, she thinks, and you can’t tell what any of this means.

Did you see that, you ask Jordan. Did you see that just there. That was a thing, an instance, you think. Isolated and separate. A thing, an instance. Isolated and separate. An empathy, an understanding. A thing shared. A shrimp thing, an I know thing. An I really do thing. Sometimes there is nothing. A void, a lack. A scraping out. You feel numb, cauterized. A hollowing. There is nothing here anymore, you think. Nothing there, you think. Anymore. And this isn’t bad, you tell yourself. It is just gone, whatever it was. A lack, a loss.  A forgetting of something vaguely remembered. A mote of dust, a dot of glue. A flake of skin. Mingling and combining. Filling the space. When you feel full, you want to feel empty. This lack, this hollow. You wonder if you want to feel like this. Empty and spent. There are millions of pounds of clouds, you think. Everywhere and all at once. They are there right now. Looming and impending. All around.

Your chest hurts at night. A numb pain. A dull thud. A bone, a muscle. It keeps you up. You think it is from holding the baby. Your little boy. Sometimes he has nightmares, sometimes he calls daddy. He says daddy come get me. You get him every time. You hold him. You kiss his head, his soft hair. Soft as a rat’s raincoat, you tell him. You smile and he smiles. You hold him until he falls asleep. You hold him and hold him. His breath warm. Tiny hands hugging you. Tiny fingers. You do not mind being up because of this, because of holding your baby, your boy. His hair soft as a rat’s raincoat. You smile, you think. You walk. Babies are everywhere, you think. All over this building, this place. In H, in L. In the news and on the televisions.

There are break rooms. There are dedicated areas. Inspiration and collaboration. In the atrium, on the floors. There are whiteboards and small chairs. The chairs are round. They wobble. They are scattered throughout. You have seen them in P, you have seen them in K. They are called huddle zones. There was an announcement, this was communicated. You didn’t write this announcement, this didn’t come from your area. You wonder where it came from. You wonder now and didn’t then. There was a plan, you think as you pass a huddle zone. There was a plan behind all of this. Behind the huddle zones, behind the whiteboards. There was a need, a problem. Things were one way and had to be another. A progression, a causation. These wobbly chairs were the solution, somebody’s solution. A decision was made. A wobbly decision. You can sit on these chairs. Anybody can. They are round. They wobble. You can sit and wobble and write on a whiteboard if you want.

You could be walking.

You could get an idea. You could grab some markers. You could write the completion of a robust strategy outlining the framework for the acquisition and use of data. You could say prototype, you could say ingestion engine. These are thoughts you could have, things you could write down. On a wall with a marker on a wobbly chair. In a meeting you are going to, somebody may say correlation of data across multiple sets. In a meeting you are going to, you may say that. Correlation of data, you could say. Across multiple sets and that would be a thing, an item, data to be ingested by whatever engines are there. Ingested and accepted. Correlation of data is a thing engines can ingest.

There are engines here, you think. Engines where you are. When you were young and couldn’t sleep, you would think about things you didn’t understand. You would think about steam engines. How does that work,  you would think. Steam and pistons, you thought. Turbines, pressure. A steam engine is simple. It is antiquated, old. We are past this, beyond this. It is gone, gone like it never existed. It is floated away and forgotten and you don’t understand it. You never have. Gears, pressure. Weights and counterweights.  Displacement. Force and velocity and pressure and push and you would sleep, sleep. Comforted, safe, secure. Warm knowing that things worked even if you didn’t understand them. You stop in front of the escalator. You watch it run. You watch the plates and grates. Appearing and disappearing. Plates underneath, grates hidden. Teeth meshing and interlocking. A purpose, a design.

Engineered, you think.

Conveying and transporting, you think. You smile and rub your stomach. You step on. You rise up, you ascend. Sun shines in from skylights. Warm beams. You see motes of dust. Separate, you think. Indistinguishable. You think about a scene from Crocodile Detective. You think about motes, you think about dust. Pebbles and aggregate. This is a scene, but this is later. This is not now. Now Crocodile Detective is figuring it out. There is a case. He is watching a woman under an awning, you think. She is the key to something bigger, some conspiracy, you think. A cult, a secret society. You think narrative progression, you think page-turner. There is an unraveling, a revealing. Things exposed and shown. You think inner workings, you think machinations. There is data, there is information. You think unmasked and laid bare. A turning away, a receding. Like a tide, a wave. You think a thin veil. A membrane covering an eye. Thin and filmy. Milky and gauzy. Concealing. Blurring. You can still see the eye. From a distance, from where you are, you think. A perspective, a point of view. You can still see the eye even when it looks like something else, you think. Milky and hidden. Changed and the same. It is still an eye even though, you think. Even though and even though.

You read mysteries, you read crime novels. You write the names of them down. The ones that you have read. To catalogue, to categorize. Preserve and contain. A record, a log. You think of the worlds created, the logic. The schemes and plots. An inevitability, a progression. A this then a this then another this. The crafting of events, all toward a design, toward a purpose. Feelings elicited, you think. Cases and dames and good men gone bad. These are plots, these are structures. This happens and then this happens and then this happens. People make these, you think when you read about falcons, about sleep. People do this, you think. In a book you read once, there was a mystery of a 40 watt bulb. It was about a light bulb, you think, the whole thing was. An entire book about a light bulb, you think. You think of writing a book about a pubic hair. You think about writing a book about a cult. Crocodile Detective is solving a crime. It is about a cloud, it is about a cult. There is data in the cloud, you think. There is a plot. There is a plan. The cloud has data. This data has everything. All of this information. Everything from everyone. Stored and saved. Data collected, data aggregated. Above and beyond. Somebody is stealing this data. There is a Church. The Church of the Perpetual Variation. Stealing affectations and differentiations. Selling them to people. Affectations and quirks. Backstories. To distinguish, to identify. To set apart. A bulwark, a balustrade, you think. This is good, you think. You hope you remember this. This anything to stop the everything. This everything to stop the anything. A bulwark, a balustrade. Words sung and words said. You think herald, you think elegy. If you accumulate enough, you think. To differentiate, to stand in contrast to. Of and against. A relation, an opposition. To distinguish, to set apart. And we need this, you think. A moment, a dot of glue. A fish in the sun, a whale passing by. A limp and a touch. We need these things, all of us do. Sun in face and wind in hair. A baby smiling and a baby dying. Hairs dark and hairs soft. Soft like rat’s raincoat. All of this and all of this. Subsumed and consumed. You think this on the escalator going up. You think this on plates and grates. You think this is gears, this is pulleys. This is grates receding and disappearing. You are standing on metal plates and grates.

Buoyed and conveyed. There are words that people use. They say bulwark, they say balustrade. They say ingesting data and real-time analytics. They say concatenation. They say I am sorry for your loss. They say a crocodile detective. These words are made of letters and symbols. Lines and curves. Arrayed and arranged. There is an understanding, there is an agreement. This means that.  There is a fitting together, you think. Gears meshing, piecing and fitting. Like plates on grates, like wood in teeth. A thing is made up of other things, you think. A cloud weighs a million pounds, you think. There is a lack, there is a loss. There is a pang of separation. There is a longing to be closer. To be tied and tethered together.

You think this on the escalator. All of this, you think. You are going up. You think buoyed, you think conveyed. This is you and everyone else. Repeating. This is here and all over.
 
 

About the author

Ben Slotky

Ben Slotky’s first novel, Red Hot Dogs, White Gravy was published by Chiasmus in 2010 and was re-released by Widow & Orphan in 2017. His work has appeared in The Santa Monica Review, Numero Cinq, Hobart, Golden Handcuffs Review, Barrelhouse, Great Jones Street, McSweeney’s, Juked, and many other publications. He lives in Bloomington, IL with his wife and six sons.