His town is your town suddenly, the live-long suddenly, both towns being P.O. boxes. A morning is some delivery down off the killer curve of the highway, the elephant elbow where they mix concrete with drums and rollers, transporting dust in slow, staccato peristalsis. (It smells like bitter chalk.) A basin of green porcelain receives the foaming erasures of dirt, skinned. The phone has no rotary parts, only a dial in the form of a single button rising from its middle. Clicks are instant. A dumbwaiter slides out of its own doors, the ones that snap shut to make a horizon. Its service opens onto a cold room, brilliant as hair tonic, featuring a long table, about waist-high, designed either for the sorting of parcels or the butchering of hog parts. Abbreviated bits of twine wriggle whitely under the rubber cleats of shoes built for standing. A curtain of long, slender vinyl flaps reaches from the top of the doorframe to the linoleum that’s green where it should remember to be black, grey where it has had the green beaten out of it. The plastic, a tissue of laths once translucent, is now the pearly drab of moth eggs. Iron canisters, flecking wheelbarrow red, have been vacated by their pressurized contents; words and ideas have escaped into flames, metallic balloons, the invisible interstices of foreign molecules. Imagine these shapely kitchen blurs: bananas like cross-sections of liver and jaundice; cherry tomatoes fondling each other in lipstick-alarm netting; a pomegranate, halved along an axis of ovaries as livid as juice. Nobody works here, nobody comes here, but he sends his messages—quotable prostheses such as “’Posthumously’ is a motion implied”—through these corridors as if they were wires, generous and too sublime for rushing.
Your parish’s conglomerations blueprint the treacherous throne on which he, the latest interloper, has hung his crown: a fedora with balding brim. The blots of darker brown are not spots where this lodger’s scalp has sweated through. They are stains, of the blood he coughs into his fingers every awakening, or of soot he keeps in a pocket of gum and cheek. His sister? You would never have glanced at her had she not bought a new flip at the beautician’s. Her head, after a long silence, is slanting into rhyming again with the padding and gently scraping sounds of all that had once been set on the soft shelf of her hips. Her hair and the hunch that, even without being sliced open, augurs many suppers of brittle sundowns: their closings face, and you can’t make brackets out of how they yawn. She walks with her legs shaking out her train as if she’s desperate not to glide. She carries her own dimness with her, its fog a tumescence sweating leather in her coin purse. Her skin is a shinglery of veils no bigger than toys. They flap even as she daintily pecks each hello down to its last spine. Your shoeshines and breadbaskets (these last shrouded in vapor) happen past her parasols and busks, and, in this shirring of covetousness and condescension, your skin prickles at the bells sent to sleep in all of her manners.
Who can stand this recrudescent amputee? He comes from the trackless side of obsession, the flats where storms brood, where addresses are secret or coded, their air lascivious with the stops and wroughts of a homeless telegraphy. Yet he has confidants and well-wishers, dance-card punchers and screen-door bashfuls. On them he bestows obsequies of kidneys and pituitaries and fleshy nodes trailing tendrils of indeterminate function, much as admiring young men shower their beloveds-to-be with blossoms and sweets and all manner of glittery adornments. Your town is drowning in the clear spoilage of his gifts and testimonies. Yet still our forefathered decorum demands that one surrender one’s brow at passing matrons, churches, ball-games, sit-down meals. The gesture, like the submission of his smile, is bad energy through and through.
Your letter has not yet arrived and you suspect it may have been intercepted. Cradled behind the tiny door and window whose combination lacks discretion is a muscle from the abdominal wall, as moist as it is ochreous. A testicle. A whole leg below the knee, the toenails contorted and opaque with growing. A forearm fissured with fat welts as iridescent as the hollows of gutted fish. Not even a signature or squiggle of ink, a spilled hair. Conveyances flap and moan on the table, slickening it until the counter’s scores are as unsulliable as breath. You are at pains to realize it. This bachelor, he means to be wholly vacated and neighborly all the while.