MISCELLANEOUS LANGUAGE novel excerpt by Pablo D’Stair

 

I KEPT THE ONE DRAWER of the desk, the one third down or second up, depending how your mind works, arranged rather meticulously, this in contrast to the other drawers of the rather hulking thing – drawers in two rows to either side of the chair. The two large drawers, these in the row nearest me when seated, the ones to either side of my knees when seated straight – I did often work seated sideways, an old footrest I had found supporting my legs, crossed, the view of nothing in particular from the window taking up a great deal of my concentration when positioned this way – containing, the one, loose papers which I was able to sort through without too much trouble when necessary, the other, large folders bound shut with elastic strings, piled more-or-less according to dates scrawled in blue ink across their fronts. The contents of these folders were nothing of any particular merit, in fact their purposes had nothing to do the one folder with another, and other than them the drawer contained an address book, the receipts for some textbooks I had purchased for a friend, three pens still in their packaging, a metal ball-bearing, tarnished, dirty gold, the original of the letter, from which only just one word was so far effaced, this expurgated word made so from cross-hatched strokes, left diagonal, right diagonal, straight side-to-side, straight up-down, rolled tightly, closed with three rubber bands. Also a fingernail of mine I found which I had once discarded there after clipping it off with my teeth, this to the side of everything else, it looking rather like a fallen eyelash on the grain of the inner drawer’s unfinished wood. I kept the copies I made of her letter in the drawer only until I am done with them, they are then promptly destroyed, torn into long strips then small squares, discarded to the plastic bag I had set up, pinned to the desk corner with two thumbtacks for refuse – ‘an unceremonious ceremony’ I think to myself every time and feel hissingly clever despite every time thinking, exactly the same way, how the phrase might be nifty but is not true to what I do. I had chosen which page of the four I would focus on, had at this point decided to eliminate one of the Beside, one of several, in fact, within a single sentence

I keep it in the drawer beside me, sel there beside the address bok beside the photograph, only your back beside mine but I knw we were grinning

the only word, up to this point, to be removed from this page of this copy. My method had become to move the pen tip circularly – around around, around around – until the result seemed a single stain, formless, composed of no method. The sentence was written with several misspellings – two Os missing, no line across a lowercase T, it seemed a lowercase L. The drawer was re-closed, copy of the letter left unfolded beside, atop somewhat, the letter rolled. I opened the file after lifting it once, dropping it, leafed through the pages, applied a staple at the corner after removing a staple which had not set right – the staple curved, resembling crooked fingers or the line of shoulders tensed from fatigue and as sharp. I wrote to the file my initials where only initials were required, my signature in the instance of my name – fourteen motions in all, I was thinking, even when setting my initials down, also thinking to myself, nearly whispering, my name. It was the end of the week, therefore I was, as always, left with an entire afternoon in which I was required to be present but had no official work at all to occupy myself with, not even anything I might diligently plough ahead on. Already, months ago, I had organized shelves, the various items having no discernable places of their own, the closet, emptying this of everything except for a suit I kept there, cleaned thoroughly the floor, the walls, the ground beneath the empty water bottle I leave there and somehow find always refilled at the start of each day. I would dust, polish the legs of the chair – these usually having become dirtied by the undersides of my shoes rubbing against them as I wrote – after having my lunch. I took up the rag from the windowsill, the bottle of cleanser – on the sill, also, was an advertisement I had removed from the hallway bulletin board, yanked it off after sniffing an aimless contempt how it was three months outdated. My intention in doing so was to have discarded it – a poorly rendered treble-clef beside the slogan Hire a guitar or trombone – eight dollars per-the-week – immediately. I noticed, though, that on the paper someone had written out a bit of poetry You said you were only waiting there / taking hair around your untrimmed fingernails whose author I recognized, so it had traveled as far as the sill where now I looked to it, not reading, before spending ten minutes in polishing the pane glass of the window. From outside of the window – if I listened, not intently but with a conscious strain – I was fairly certain I could make out the melody of the song drifting out from some radio, so paused in cleaning, my face near enough the glass to smell it, with one of my hands rubbing the fabric of my pant knee in semicircles, slightly curved straights. The windows were permeable, old, never replaced by either myself or the room’s three previous tenants, the air of the evening present on me as a draft, felt like the placement of a woman’s hand on one’s shoulder, unexpected, when in contemplation of some other inconsequential point. After the pane glass had been polished, I stood with my face to the window, but I could hear nothing so argued with myself how I had not heard anything in the minutes before, either, and no melody came to mind but instead some phrase from the letter, a scab still committed to my memory

Like all safe things, it should not be said, for what is so safe, I knew, never could be life

occurring to me in pieces, while so many other of the words were truly forgotten until I read them, re-read them, re-read them, scribbled them out. I touched my pocket to see if I had put my medication tablets there or if I needed to get the bottle from out of my briefcase, turned the toe of one shoe inward to the point of tension, held it there. What else was there, then? My reflection, scarcely, to the window when clouds were over the sun through the trees, there was the sound of some movement from a room down the corridor, apparently near the corridor end, there was the appearance of my breath, grey-white to the glass when I breathed it out, the disappearance of it, like water drying to a center-point, when I breathed it back.

 


I HAD BEEN WALKING BESIDE them while they spoke – they were already deeply in conversation by the time they neared me at the functioning water-cooler around the corridor corner, continuing as they, with no malice or thought at all to annoy me, kept pace with me on my return to my office – already irritated by the tones of their voices, by the banality of their subject matter, it having nothing to do with themselves or with even their department. That they had stopped outside of my door, not continuing into the office directly across from mine, this belonging to the one of them, was difficult to comprehend. In the normal course of events, muffled conversation, gossip, hearsay through my office door was not enough to jar me, but I had found, only after my return to my desk, how the cup I had dispensed my water into was not clean, a ring of powder green along the water’s edge, a small piece of paper floating on the surface, and the combined matters were enough to constitute an irregular nuisance. I moved to the window, as it was far enough from the filter of the door I could not make out enough particulars of what they were saying – I made out slurs of sounds, often seeming to resemble my own name – to feel distracted by it. I saw, outside, that there was the fellow at the break-tables which lined the walking path toward the building, watched him at his business while I ran my tongue over my teeth, the exaggerated dry feeling left by the water having a taste to it like damp wood. I watched the fellow closing the umbrellas of the break-tables – one of them he opened, closed halfway several times, before he wrapped the cord, pulling it taut around the in-folded material, the pole. It occurred to me, concerning the chatty duo over in the next office, how the one fellow actually would have had call to bring up the matter to the other, that it was some other fellow – there was a similarity in their appearance if hardly looked at out of one eye, sideways, while walking past, which is how I tended to note the fellow I meant – who I had mistaken him for. There was briefly an impulse to open the door, proffer apology, but as that action would only lead to further conversation with the two of them – beside it being a pointless, even awkward social gesture – I instead took up the cup with my water. I wondered if the green was a fungus of some kind, a pestilent or virulent variety which would grow at times in the remnants of a bottle of wine, then, setting the cup down again, I licked my tongue once over my lower lip. I had finished off a bottle of wine before going to sleep the night previous, in the morning unable to wash the stain of it, damp violet circles, left to the sides of my mouth, my lower lip, most particularly. This would only be noticed if my lips parted, as they did – often if not always – when I concentrated on some task, waited for my turn to speak in a debate, a behavior from adolescence perhaps, never unlearned. I wiped, now, my parted lips on the fabric of my shirt shoulder. There was the matter of carrying the finished files downstairs, four flights, to the attendant in the appropriate department, there was the curious rattle along the ceiling edge I was uncertain had to do with my office or the office affixed to mine. I stood on the chair, as I had done several times in the past several weeks, ran the edge of my hand along the border of hard plaster near the wall top. Stepping down from the chair, I wiped my hands inside of one another then diagonally over my shirtfront, one ending up inside my pant pocket, the other closing into a loose fist, knuckles rapping three times, all of them as one rattattat motion, over the chair back, then loosening, the arm slack but still moving from the inertia of the drop. I was still somewhat bothered by a conversation – a week ago, now, the thing pestered me, vexingly, I wished it did not – which I felt I had ought to have pursued to a more satisfactory terminus. It was true enough how – as had been brought up to me earlier, many times – living expenses in the area were below average, the idea, however, of owning property – even, as she had said ‘Merely apartment rooms’ – was somehow archaic to me. This specific was settled already – I felt the sensation of a cough beginning in my throat – with a rather apathetic giving in on her part to a list of several complaints, unrelated to the topic. The trouble was, though, how if I met her again in the cafeteria she may react oddly to me and I would then feel obliged to explain how I had – and it may even have been the truth, right now I felt what did I know – not been in the mood to talk, really, when we had and so had reacted aggressively. To use the word Aggressively would be my making placations, the appropriate thing to say if I wanted absolutely peaceable results. At the window, again there was the fellow, emptying now the ashtrays, raking the sand smooth with a pocket-comb, a swirl to the granules, a slight rise I imagined not purposeful at parts. The sand was only replaced after a downpour of rain, in the wintertime snow serving well enough for sand, at the first thaw leaving cigarette stubs congealed to a kind of paste by the typical rise, suddenly, in the temperature. The corridor would, until this fellow did his job, be then dotted along with worn white paper, yellowed filter cotton, water stains, the odor of barroom toilets. In the corridor, now, was the sound of a woman’s laughter, the closing of a door which signified the early lunch shift. I had arrived hours before it was necessary for me to be present, so could rightfully take part in this lunch-period, and for a moment I thought – as it was the end of the week – I might even take two lunch hours – as it would not be noticed – instead of waiting in the office for a telephone call, an intercom call, a clerk to ask me politely for some old file he was required to retrieve, or else for my interest to – though it would not – return to the half-read article I had clipped from the magazine but left on the ground of the public bus-stop.

 


THE SPECKS OF ORANGE HAD been on the legs of the desk since the repainting of the office wall, previous attempts of mine to, with various cleansing agents, remove them had been fruitless, so I now tried to chip at them with the point of a paperclip, halfway unfolded. This caused more damage to the wood itself, some of the red-stain getting scratched in angular jags, so I abandoned the method. I ran the dust-rag a last time over each leg, then the dampened cloth then, again, the dust-rag to dry the slight moisture remaining from the dampened cloth. Against the pale brown of my pant cuffs, the red of my socks – also, this the more striking contrast, against the polished black of my shoes – looked strange. I had worn the red socks instead of another pair I had considered because of the pattern embroidered in three stripes at the ankle, color not crossing my mind, even the slightest little bit, just out of the shower, my eyes not yet adjusted to the lighted bedroom lamp. If I sat now, my pant cuffs would rise, the fabric pulled, held up by the curve of my body in the chair. I breathed out, thinking of green socks, argyle, powder blue, flesh-tone. I turned my hands palm up with the fingers curved, touching the underside of my desk – this was my hands touching the shoulders of a woman, a woman sitting, leaned forward in a cushioned chair to allow the touch, this was the light fabric of a summer dress, an inch lower than the knees, of a woman I had been sitting in front of standing first while I wanted her to stay, or this was piano keys, the legs of an animal, the claws. I opened the desk’s center-drawer, moving aside some loose items – there was the spare key to the Photographic Archives I still needed to return, and there was a photograph of myself with a coworker, we at a casual business function holding up some award or another, and there and there were paperclips, there a rubber band, an unused roll of tape, there – to find the index card I had written an old colleague’s telephone number on. The card also had an equation began in its one corner – the handwriting like accidental marks left by rings through carbon paper – which had been crossed out in a different color ink than it had been jotted in, a number circled which seemed to bear no relation to the thing’s proper solution. I had some difficulty getting an outside line, the telephone ringing to no reply when I was finally able to put my call through. I let the ringing continue on for more than a minute, the telephone rested against my shoulder, sound emanating no more from the receiver than I was just barely able to hear. I rocked my chair to one side then the other by putting my weight down hard on the sides of each foot – this one that one, this one that one – my shoes flexing, folding outward then in, letting a flow of escaping air cool against the sides of my socks – these quite moist, a real vexation – and against the undersides of them, as well. I was due a raise in two months’ time, substantial monies to me even though the bump would be the minimum possible, a contractual obligation having nothing to do with performance or skill, this all suiting me fine as I had no particular skill to show in the context of my duties and in my outside life only the obscure ability to identify very subtle shades in coloring distinguished me from the average twerp. I could tell if there was a hint of blue in an otherwise white wall – or yellow, I had a real knack for sniffing out any tincture of yellow. I once impressed a woman – a honest to God dame, well out of my own social strata – by naming almost occult shades of burgundy, by also noting how a painter she was enamored of had layered a canvas with four different colors before obfuscating them each with the other, finally covering them all in grey. I knew, as well, how the red in my socks was a dye applied to a sort of khaki thread, the stain on the desk wood covered another statin, more conservative. Every other day I became tired around the time I became energetic on the last day of the week – as I was becoming now, tired, a brief giggle at the absurd unfairness today was only a day midweek – breathing heavily, raising my chest, letting it cave, my ribs beginning to numb, the insides of my cheeks becoming dried. Normally, I would contemplate closing my eyes for a half-hour before the lunch break, reminding myself always how if I was discovered it would be easy enough to feign illness. Depending on who it was that entered my office to find me asleep, I might not even have to explain myself or else might even enjoy it to the hilt, invent some more dramatic story, a night of drinking, gaming, lovemaking, attempting until dawn a small sculpture in clay. I had moved the telephone from its place in order to attempt my call so took advantage of this to rid the desktop of the outline left in dust around its spot before replacing it. The rags were folded, left once more at the windowsill, so I pulled my shirtsleeve taut, bunching the cuff into my palm, using it in a dozen motions of varying strength – back-and-forth, this-way-that fwipfwipfwip – to clear the dirt, the small debris, buff the spot somewhat properly. I preferred the telephone cord to lay coiled in front of the cradle, not crossed over itself, as I liked to run the tip of my ring finger along the ridges of the coil. I used my feet to slowly spin my chair around – choppy motion, especially with this chair no way to make even a single around truly smooth – only twice lifting both feet up to allow for the brief chance of feeling weightlessness, perhaps the feeling I might fall. Each time though, the motion stopped immediately, the chair tensing, a mechanism I did not understand in its base locking, so that it would not allow for rotation, at all. How this mechanism was eventually released I had never been able to figure out, but I knew it would release, I gave the fact a personality, a snicker, a sneaky middle of the night espionage, building vacant, the sound, as I imagined it, an uproarious ping. Today though, maybe would be the day, maybe enough was enough and some gumption would alter affairs, utterly. I ran my hands all along the underside of the chair while still seated, I stood, trying to jostle the chair back loose, went to my knees, even to my elbows, looking at the glint of light from the window on the tan shell of the wheel case, the smear of my reflection, face, shirt collar, tie, hair color, beard, made together into an elongated blur.

 


THE DESIGN OF THE BUILDING is such that the water coolers – these having replaced, nearly two years ago now, the water fountains, the water fountains which I and many others had much preferred – are in the center of each split corridor where there is a small common area indented – a room with no doors, large windows – into the otherwise smooth rectangle of doors, lights, fire extinguishers, reproductions of artwork, manufactured in such a way as to give off the impressions and textures of original, of one-of-a-kind despite some corridors have – at least so it seems to me – more than one copy of the same painting along them. The water coolers used to be placed one outside each of the restrooms – these at either end of the corridor – set directly beneath the end windows – the problem in this being how one cooler produces only hot water, the other only ice. This led to one too many awkward encounters, people of one gender utilizing the restrooms designated for those of the opposite after the irritation of forgetting if the north end of the hallway was hot, the south end ice water. The new arrangement is still imperfect – the janitor closet being the door directly across from the indenture, the smell of standing water, chemicals, mop-heads never entirely dry, of mildew sometimes being overwhelmingly unpleasant. I tend to shave three times in the course of a day – when I wake, at lunch, before I sleep – at lunch shaving at the restroom sink, undoing my tie, leaving my shirtfront opened four buttons. I tend to afforded absolute privacy during this ablution, as the rest of the staff on this floor, almost without fail, take their lunches out, leaving the premises ten to fifteen minutes earlier than they should, or else are female. In the event even of a delay in the regular lunch plans of the male staff, I have never had an unpleasant – certainly never an antisocial – encounter with them. I once used the word Ablutions aloud to explain what I was about to be doing, raising a supervisor’s eyebrow, but I have come to think his expression was a random one such as I, myself, have made at times when somebody says something I either do not quite hear or am unconcerned with. The corridor windows were still being left open, the weather had not turned hazardously cold, light coats were employed liberally with sweaters, by mid-afternoons the temperature outdoors nearly appropriate for shorts. The draft of the cooler air in from outside, though, mixed with the regulated heat of the interior had caused the glass of the various artworks on the walls – those which were framed and enclosed in glass, these more generic than their textured, charlatan cousins – to become beaded with condensation, cold to the touch, staining in white streaks, salt like, the black, the brown, the copper of the frames, sometimes even warping the paper the artworks were reproduced on, the colors of the pieces going weak in lazy drifts and daubs after drying. As I exited the restroom, my tie still undone, three buttons of my shirt loose as well as the collar buttons, I ran my hands over the glass in swirls. Overhead lights mingled with the distortion of the colors of seascapes, portraiture, historical scenes, abstractions of humans forms, expressionistic pieces of emotion, movement, leaving me with the impression how the paintings themselves were liquids inside hollows of glass now somewhat shattered, the highlights of fluorescent white sharp, curved crystals, water of images drying to powder. I had been unable to find my own cup, it, I assumed, left in either the communal refrigerator or on the counter in the cafeteria, but had no fear it would have been made off with, nor was I upset at having to use one of the waxed, paper cones set on top of the cooler – provided by the company that rented the building these devices – since the dispenser had become dislodged from its mounts. I looked at the water before sipping at it to assure myself the green from my previous drink was, in fact, a defect of the particular cup I had taken, a one-off aberrant and not a new status quo I would have to be vigilant not to wind up under the thumb of. The silence, then, of the corridor was relaxing, reminiscent of being in a shop after closing, as though people were around but going about their business contentedly, already musing the thoughts which would later lull them to sleep. From through the window I heard a car engine being attempted, finally engaging, a sharp sound of vibration, calming, then even, distant, a hum as though the vehicle had already moved away. Here I thought of having found – once, once quite long ago – a photograph, years afterward, of a young woman I was attracted to in my days before attending University. The experience was important – or so I felt then and felt all the more now – as it allowed me to see this person as she actually looked when my attraction to her was formed. Then, in the honest moment, I thought of her as a woman, beautiful, the imperfections of age perfect. In the photograph, though – and with the honesty of life’s passage allowing me to look back with distanced sobriety – she was a girl, formless, a child, reclined to a wall corner near a lamp, extinguished, true light from somewhere outdoors illuminating her features under degradations of shadow, overexposure of film, her one shoulder up-tilted through the thin of her shirt, a scarf wrapped, three times, around her neck, blood velvet. I drank off all of my water, refilled the cone, relaxed my forehead against the corner of the opened window, eyes closed, felt how the day outside had grown bright. There were gatherings of people to the break-tables, some of them opening the umbrellas with some perplexity, worried, I assumed, about how they would be held responsible if they caused them any damage. The bit of the parking area I could make out was empty, the new silver trash receptacles a spattering of violent glints, angled, on the new block of sidewalk cement where they were set – actually set into the cement, I remembered. I thought this was a somewhat extreme measure against the brief task of resetting upright an overturned, green plastic one – I had a fondness, pointless, for those old, vanished green plastic trash-bins, a fondness now which I ad never had when they were still present – though these matters were not at all not my concerns, were the results of someone else’s careful planning, proposals, pride of a job well done. I crumpled the drinking cone, putting it in my pant pocket, keeping my hand closed around it, looking at my watch, discovering how I had been lingering too long – now the actual lunch hour was upon me – so hurried back to my office door to retrieve my topcoat, hat, gloves. Pulling the hand holding the cup – I had released the cup, my hand in such a position, though, that to find anything else in the pocket it would have to be reinserted – from my pocket in order to get out my door key, I dislodged some loose scraps of paper, a single coin to the floor. Kneeling to take them up again, I put my other hand on the handle of the door, causing it to turn down, the door to come opened. I looked at it opening, stopping, just hovering there opened that wink – looked at it squinting, my three fingers running over the coin, knuckles touching the rough grain of corridor carpet which had, this week, not been vacuumed.

Miscellaneous Language is available for purchase at Amazon.

 

Pablo D’Stair was born in 1981. At the age of 19 he composed his first novel (October People) for the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest sponsored by Anvil Press. The novel did not win the competition but was published in the subsequent year – along with his second novel (Confidant) – by the infamous and now defunct vanity book-mill Publish America. In the mid-2000’s, D’Stair co-founded the art-house press Brown Paper Publishing with his colleague, the novelist, musician, and painter Goodloe Byron. Through this press and its literary journal Predicate, he released the work of more than fifty of his peers along with editions of two dozen of his own books. Eventually shuttering BPP, D’Stair founded (KUOBA) press, continuing to publish work by his contemporaries. During this era, his own literary output remained prolific but largely unreleased, though several works were made available as limited-edition print projects and in various electronic mediums. D’Stair spent several years as a cinema critic – primarily for the UK site Battle Royale with Cheese – and as an essayist/interviewer for the national newspaper of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer (through which periodical several of his novella and a story collection were serialized). Also during this period, D’Stair began working as an underground filmmaker in the capacities of writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and performer – the cinematography of his first feature (A Public Ransom) earned an award in international competition at the XIX Internacionlni TV Festival (Bar, Montenegro 2014). D’Stair has also written several volumes of poetry, more than four dozen pieces of theatre, written and directed music videos, written and illustrated graphic novels and comic-book series, and produced audio essays. His work across all mediums has often been released pseudonymously.

What’s HFR up to? Read our current issue, submit, or write for Heavy Feather. Buy our merch.