NEUTRAL SPACES

NEUTRAL

SPACES

Stream #13

6th - 12th Apr 2019


- Helen Frankenthaler



One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life.


- Frank O'Hara




* * *


On Monday I went to the office. There was a mouse in the trap. I disposed of the body and closed the office door and called the department of motor vehicles to remind them that my traffic ticket has been paid in full and to send me a receipt. I did some work. At one point I wept quietly.

I took Tuesday off. Wednesday, back in the office, I saw how the paper was curled from where what I had left behind dried away. I recycled the paper into the shredder by the window. I sat back down at my desk.

I shopped on the Internet for a bath mat for three hours off and on. I ate lunch. Soup from a can.

Henry was sitting at a table with four chairs in a cafe and was sort of glancing around and watched a boy with a strikingly rectangular head enter the cafe. The impression of the boy's head as "rectangular" made Henry feel momentarily self-conscious and vaguely confused, and he gazed downward into his hot apple cider.
A Bruce Springsteen song was playing on a radio on the counter. The sound seemed clear; the radio seemed new-ish, and maybe expensive; but the song seemed distant--heard by Henry, but only engaged by some inner cavity of his mind, with no thought surrounding the sound. Henry's attention drifted and found an old man, outside the cafe window, sitting in the driver seat of a car, the door open. Henry watched as the old man pulled a handkerchief to his face and burrowed, with his nose, deep into it. For Henry, there was no sound, and the image seemed somehow frozen. Then the old man shifted and the handkerchief disappeared. Henry returned his attention to his apple cider.
The cafe door opened and Alice, the person for whom Henry had been waiting for more than an hour, entered. Henry wondered if she would look over at him, but she did not, at least not immediately; she walked quickly to the register, the barista noticed her and took her order, and for a moment, while Alice waited for her drink, Henry gazed at the back of her head. Her jacket hood seemed to float, as if it had just been let down a few seconds before Alice came into the cafe.
When Alice turned around, having received her drink and paid and tipped, she walked directly to Henry's table and sat in the chair across from him. Henry thought that she must have seen him as she entered the cafe, or otherwise glanced at him in a moment when he was looking in another direction, and in order to buy her drink, wait for the drink, and convene with Henry, all in the most simple and succinct manner possible, resolved to act as if she hadn't yet seen him.

They exchanged hellos and began to talk about what they were going to do.

"I have to work in the morning so I don't want to take a lot," Alice said. Henry said, "Okay. You could just take half of one and I can take the other half and save the other one, or I can take the other one, too."

Alice nodded. "Okay, sure. I want to do it, I'm just... worried?" She rubbed at the corner of her eye with her index finger.

"I understand," Henry said. "I'm excited... and nervous... I've never... done it before. I've done other stuff, though..."

He looked past Alice, through the window at the front of the cafe. There was a banner with bright colors hanging in a window that was blocked with something like black construction paper. The banner said: "COMING SOON: MARS"--"MARS" was an acronym for something, but Henry couldn't make out the smaller print. Henry mouthed and thought the word, "What." (This was something he did a lot.) He gazed at the "MARS" banner for a moment, feeling vaguely bored and unsure, and then he looked back at Alice. She was smiling in a way that Henry thought seemed "almost-ridiculous."

They had only met twice before. The first time had been at a party, about a year before; they had stood in the same circle of people who were mostly talking about music. They were standing sort of next to a bonfire, but not gathered around it. A tall person with long hair and a baseball hat was flattening empty 12-pack soda- and beer-can boxes and laying them on top of the fire. (The logs in the fire were a little wet, and hissed with the flame.) Henry watched the tall person at intervals while standing in the circle. He spoke only twice, to say "yeah" the first time and "I don't know" the second time. Everything Alice said, it seemed, began with "I don't know, I think..."

Henry could remember that the conversation had been mostly about music, but beyond that, no specifics.

The second time they met was at a more recent party. Henry had interjected himself into a conversation between Alice and two other people to say something like, "I think an important part of 'Views' is the 'pauses' between a lot of the songs." Henry was holding a can of beer that someone had handed him when he first got there. Eventually he opened it and took a long drink and instantly felt that the beer was "tainted" or "poisonous." He said, "I think I'm going to throw up."

Alice helped him find the restroom, on the second floor of the house. Henry spat into the toilet. The urge to vomit passed. Henry and Alice sat in the bathroom for a long time talking about alcohol and weed and drugs, and eventually "making a pact" to take LSD together.

"You don't blink a lot," Alice told Henry, after they had been looking at each other silently for what seemed like a long time. Henry blinked seemingly in response to this, it seemed; he felt in the moment of the blinking that he had no choice but to be blinking exactly then. He said, or muttered, "I don't know what you mean."

Alice said, "Like, I don't think you've blinked at all, since I sat down, except just now." She did something with her eyebrows that seemed funny. "I don't know."

Henry blinked some more. Alice suggested that they leave. They both got up, took their cups to a bus tub, and walked outside.

The air outside was cold and seemed wet, though it had not rained. Henry's eyes traced the tops of buildings. He followed Alice around the corner and down the street to where her car was parked. They both got into the car. The car's interior smelled like dried-spilled-coffee. There was a metal water bottle with stickers on it in the cupholder between the driver seat and the passenger seat. As Alice started the car and pulled out onto the street, Henry asked if he could drink from the bottle. Alice said yes. Henry took a drink. There was a small metallic noise when his teeth touched against the opening of the bottle, and he made an automatic/immediate association of the sound with the taste of the water.

Alice's phone fitted into a "phone holder" on the dashboard, to the right of the steering wheel, that enabled Alice to interact with her phone while keeping one hand on the steering wheel. Alice used her left hand to steer while using her left hand to open Spotify and start a playlist. A song played through the car speakers. Alice and Henry listened. When the song ended, Henry asked, "Who is this?" Alice named the artist. Henry was looking at the part of the car that divided the front-windshield and the passenger side window. Suddenly he registered the feeling that the right part of his mind was occluded by some kind of massive, invisible rectangle.

Henry immediately forgot what music artist Alice had named, and he felt a vague sense of failure. "I really like it..." He said.

"They're my favorite band," Alice said. "Well," Alice continued, "They're not my all time favorite. I'm going to see them."

Henry closed his right eye and looked down at his shoes. "When are you?"

"December."

Henry took another drink of water. Another song played to its end and then the car reached Alice's house that she rented with a roommate, a two-story house with a steep downhill driveway. Henry got out of the car and almost fell down. The "rectangle" in his mind seemed to disappear and then he forgot about it. The house itself was on a steep hill. There were leaves all over the grass and the road.

Alice led Henry inside the house. Henry glanced from the staircase to the little living room to the ceiling. The walls were white. One wall in the living room was decorated with string lights. The living room contained a small yellow couch, a record player, a television, a space heater, an exercise ball. Henry sat down on the couch, placing his hands on his thighs. Alice passed, dropping her bag on the floor beside the couch, entering the kitchen.

Henry glanced from exercise ball to record player to coffee table to space heater to television screen, resting his gaze on the screen. There was an episode of "Criminal Minds," or something, playing. It had apparently been playing since before Henry and Alice entered the apartment. Henry's initial impression of the show was that there were people in dark-blue and black jackets who walked between several dark rooms with computers and no windows to the outside. When none of the people were talking, cinematic-type music played and the scene changed to show a hospital room with one bed. An old man was lying in bed and beside the bed, on the floor, there was a golden retriever with a dark-blue bandana tied around his neck. (Henry automatically assumed that the dog was a "boy dog".)

The camera panned from the old man to the dog as the old man looked down at the dog. The dog seemed to not be looking at anything. Henry thought that the dog seemed thirsty, because the dog had his tongue hanging out and was glancing around. (Henry thought, do I know about dogs?) A man in a black jacket--one of the people from the last scene, Henry guessed, not remembering any of the faces--entered the room holding a clipboard and pen. The man in the black jacket glanced from the old man to the dog and back to the old man. He smiled and started talking. Then the old man talked. The two of them had a conversation regarding something the old man had witnessed. Henry couldn't follow the conversation; it seemed entirely connected to something that must have happened earlier in the show, which Henry had never seen before, except in instances sort of like this one, where he entered a room and it was seemingly at mid-episode, making its events and characters seem indecipherable.

He remembered that he didn't even know for sure if it was "Criminal Minds" or another show featuring investigations.

Alice re-entered the living room holding in one hand a large yellow mug, containing tea, by its handle. In the other hand she held a glass weed-bowl, packed, with a red cigarette lighter clutched between her fingers. She sat the mug on the coffee table, hit the bowl, blew out smoke, and offered the bowl to Henry.

Henry said, "I think I'm nervous to be high and tripping at the same time."

"I don't think it makes it different," Alice said. She hit the bowl again and set it on coffee table and lifted her cup of tea. After she took a drink, she said, "When do you want to do it?"

"When do you want to?"

"I think I want to get high first and then take my half-tab."

Henry nodded. "Okay, I'll take mine now."

He reached into his front-left pants pocket and pulled out the zip-lock bag that contained the tabs of LSD. "Do I just eat it," he asked, opening the bag.

"You hold it under your tongue," Alice said.

"Really?"

"I think," Alice said.

Henry put one of the tabs of LSD on his tongue and slid it with his finger until it was on the underside of his tongue. Then he closed his mouth and moved his tongue from side to side, mostly without letting it touch his teeth.

He looked at the television hearing the sound of Alice lighting the bowl and inhaling. A man and a woman, both in dark suits, were walking in a hallway with light coming through a big window with curtains at the end of the hallway.


Alice got up and went back into the kitchen. As she was passing under the archway into the kitchen, Henry said, "Are your utilities included?"

Alice didn't say anything. Henry thought that she must not have been able to hear over the television, which seemed loud. He decided not to ask about "utilities" again because it seemed like an odd question. He couldn't remember why he had asked about it.

As he was making the decision not to ask again, he absentmindedly moved the LSD tab around inside his mouth and swallowed it. He thought, "Oh," in a tone that seemed comical. He glanced at the carpet and then looked back at the television and continued watching the "Criminal Minds"-type show. After around ten minutes, it seemed, Alice came back into the room. Henry muted the television.

Alice said, "I think the weed made me tired." Then she yawned.

Henry felt that he didn't know what to say. "Do you still want to take LSD," he asked.

Alice crossed her arms and shifted her weight onto one leg, seeming to look at the curtains on the window. "Do you think you'd be okay by yourself?" Henry made a facial expression that he imagined communicated a confused/worried feeling. Alice still wasn't looking at him. "I don't know," he said.


Alice seemed to contemplate for a few more seconds. Then she said, "Umm--well, I think I want to go up to my room, but if you need anything, just come in." Henry looked at the exercise ball with a vague feeling of futility.

He said, "Okay, that's fine."

Alice crossed the room and went up the staircase. Henry said, "Thank you for letting me stay," feeling confused.

He picked up his phone from the coffee table and went into Instagram. The first post on his feed was by a writer who Henry had seen perform at a reading earlier that year. The photo featured about one-fourth of the writer's face entering the frame from the upper-right corner, and in the background, a computer, a telephone, a photograph of Cole Sprouse that was attached to the wall, and an unrecognizable piece of computer hardware that Henry at first mistook for a windowsill. Henry "liked" the photo after gazing at it for about a minute. Then he put down his phone and glanced around the room, trying to decide whether or not the LSD had taken effect. He decided that it had not.


In a moment of "thinking without reasoning," he decided to take the second tab. Alice's apartment was totally quiet. Henry focused on listening for movement upstairs. He heard floorboards creaking. He heard a drawer sliding open and closed. For a while there seemed to be very little sound, and then, as he re-focused, without intention, on the low, constant sound of the space heater, he started to imagine that his focus was one with the space heater sound, which seemed to be "growing" and "thickening," and that the focus was a sort of glowing orange lava-lamp fluid that was flowing and floating in a beam, in a dark place. Henry was gazing in the direction of the space heater, and aware of the room around him, but felt more preoccupied with the focus beam. It seemed somehow superimposed over the space heater and room. The space heater sound had taken on a digital-type effect that changed with the beam, creating audio "fuzz" at moments. Henry breathed through his mouth, watching the beam. After a while he started to hum. When he did so, the beam began to tremble--softly at first, then aggressively.

Opposite "edges" of the lava-lamp fluid were forced through each other; as more and more of these intersections occurred, the shape seemed to bloom outward, softening and diffusing until the apartment was flooded with pale orange light. The walls seemed wet with it; Henry looked around and saw dark stains growing and shrinking on the walls, creating patterns that changed constantly. Henry continued humming until the hum seemed to no longer be affecting the orange aura. He got up and walked over to the window and looked outside.

Outside a thin film of fuzz covers the streets and cars. No people around. Nobody out. He looks closer at the film of fuzz. His nose touches the glass of the window. He doesn't like the sensation. He opens the window. He sticks his head out. Wow. He mumbles. The film of fuzz is actually a sheet of Polia nebulosa moths. One or two move here and there he notices the breathing of the world covered in moths. Nice he says a little bit louder than a mumble.

out on the street Henry sees a dog. a dog. that’s also a space. heater. the dog looks up. henry felt space heater. the dog asked about utilities. the dog looked smart like smarter than a smart dog. it shot rave laserlights from its eyes. then it pissed on a fire hydrant and moved out of the frame. henry felt lowercase.

henry. feeling more and more lowercases takes chase after the dog. the moths spill out from the scene and flutter up creating building, volcanoes and that kinda shit.

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