Earthquake

Sun fell onto a small corner of the futon and he looked at this light and then with a push of the curtain cut it back.

The futon had blue and white and yellow stripes down its length. It was covered with bits of sand and dirt carried in from the porch outside by his feet. It was covered in little pieces of itself which had eroded in the turnings of his sleep and coagulated into sand-grain-sized balls that itched a little as his legs moved over it. It was covered in more intimate things – a book which he was planning to reread, a pillow which he’d brought before on a picnic, a thin blanket that he’d brought out for the warm weather, flecks of his fingernails too small to be seen and gathered and thrown away, bits of his skin and hair, stains of his sweat and semen. The futon had been left to him by someone else.

He didn’t look around the room, not at the bookshelves or the drawers of teaching supplies or the sink filled with dirty dishes or the table covered with the remnants of an almost-finished meal from several hours ago. The meal was now growing hard and stale as it sat in on the low table in front of him, under which his two legs were splayed. All of those things, and behind him the wall and its pictures of classes he had taught, students he had known, degrees and awards he’d received, and pieces of art he’d enjoyed and felt connected to in some way, were not looked at. He looked at his computer sitting on his plump, pale thighs.

Bitch, he thought. Bitch, I was there for three hours longer than I had to be, he thought. For you, he thought, because you wanted me to, he thought. And this is what I get?

He stared at the computer screen, at the inviting blankness of his browser. He scratched the rubber band on his wrist, toyed with it a little, looked at the address bar. The band was tight. In America they’d been looser.

The wall tapped him gently on the back as if to remind him that it could move much more vigorously when it wanted to. He ignored it. He stared at the address bar. Possibilities. He didn’t make a move towards the bar, towards any of the websites he knew well. He just stared. No thoughts entered his head, none that he could point to. No thoughts of thick thighs or semen or round asses, no thoughts of red hair and morning light and calm touching. The wall tapped him again and then set up a rhythm, accompanied by the light bouncing of the floor and the heels of his feet, which rolled upward and downward in intensity and stopped.

Bitch.

I don’t know what to do, he thought. This is what I do for you and this is what I get. What should I do? You tax me, he thought. You tax me for the choices I’ve made but have never said you’d’ve made them any different.

The computer beeped at him that it was low on battery and he leaned over for the end of the black cord and grabbed with two fingers from where it sat on the futon, plugged it in in a movement that brushed the head of his penis against the underside of the computer. “Jee-sheen dess. Jee-sheen dess,” his phone beeped and scolded him, and he took it from the table and put it beside him on the futon, then brushed off some dark brown crumbs. The tapping grew a little and then quite a bit, now in his buttocks and pubic floor more than anywhere else, reached a peak, quieted. Maybe a five. She was probably scared, he thought. She doesn’t like this, doesn’t know what to do about them. I should go over there. No, damn it, I was other there three hours longer than I had to be, and what did I get?

It had been worse in Nepal, he thought. It had lasted seventy-five seconds. Damn. He’d thought at the time maybe sixty, but seventy-five. You lose track after a while, you know, can’t think of anything. The first one here was maybe thirty? The second one more? He shook his head. He didn’t know. You lose track after a while, can’t think of anything. He reached down and pulled his testicles unstuck from his thigh, looked at the address bar, the clean white browser page behind the screen with little flecks of lint on it.

But in Nepal there hadn’t been any rubber bands, he thought. No need. But there weren’t any if he had needed them. The ones he’d had in college, he wanted those now. Blue ones so big you had to double them around your wrist, but they looked official or something so no one asked about them. And they snapped nice. He thought about making a move, going for thighs. But he didn’t. He wondered if that was worth a snap or not. He hadn’t thought about thighs, he had thought about going for thighs.

It had been different, anyway, when he’d had the blue ones. He’d been writing papers, not doing this stupid work shit. The shelf in the left corner of the room squeaked a little as it rocked for a moment. He’d had friends. That’s what this was about, it wasn’t even about her, he thought. If it was about her it’d be simple. It’s about me. I don’t have friends. I have two friends and they don’t talk to each other, and she taxes me for having more than just one, more than just her.

He folded his legs into half lotus, testicles now resting on the heel of his left foot. It felt good. Was that worth a snap? Careful, he thought. But the rubber band was too tight, it hurt. Could he get new ones? He thought about when it started. Was it really with the first girlfriend? It started before her, he thought, but when did it get real? When did the pace pick up? Not when they had problems, not like now. Maybe when they went away, maybe when they went away to different colleges and didn’t have anything, didn’t have each other, and he didn’t have friends. Maybe he just needed friends.

But it wasn’t like he had no friends – he thought as a slow savory tapping picked up (the fracturing had been growing more frequent since the night before) – he had them and they didn’t get along. And she’d promised, she’d said she understood, she said she wouldn’t obstruct.

The sun had retreated now six inches from the futon. He looked at the line it made over floor’s scratches and crumbs and pieces of dirt. He saw the shape of a woman on her side, black thong on tanned skin, fullness of thigh-on-thigh next to ass’s cheek-on-cheek, the cross of lines between the four shapes. He blinked. He saw the line of the sun crossing the grain of the floor’s wood. He saw no meaning to it. He looked back at the screen, the ordered and open elements of the page, able to go anywhere.

She said she’d understood. He thought of a snap for the woman, but it seemed too late now to matter. Something in him felt like a paper cup with the bottom cut out of it. And it was afternoon. It was Saturday already and Saturday was soon over, and soon Sunday would be over too, and work would begin again, and the whole wheel would turn around with only lines in his face to show for it like some great Ouroboros contracting itself around the horizon. The weekend would be over. Anger. And time was rushing by. Terror. He licked his lips, rocked back and forth a little, was patient and let his palate clear before again: The weekend would be over. Anger. And time was rushing by. Terror.

He rolled the rubber band up from its sore resting-place.

Okay, so talk to her. Get out of this. But why should I reach out when it was her? She started the whole thing, anyway, her damn pride couldn’t sustain that friendship. So now she was taxing him. He thought about the barrel of a gun in his mouth, lips puckered. How would he angle it so no one else was hit? Or maybe sitting in the bathtub, water all red. When would they find him? Probably on Monday if he didn’t go in or call. There seemed to be a lot of ritual to the bathtub, and something about using his car seemed easier. But he didn’t know any high places, any cliffs from which to do it. He thought of her sadness, the patient understanding as he faded from a shock into a distant episode in her personal history, something to recall. The rattling picked up again. He’d like to be something to recall. He thought of the people he knew in this country all thinking that they had known someone who had done it, who had really done something like that, and all talking together quietly and slowly in words unimportant but gestures intimate and caring, united by the witnessing of something truly significant in the life of another person. Talking together and being at peace and perhaps understanding their own lives or this great system of life a little better.

He bounced on the futon and he could swear that they were getting more frequent and stronger as if they were approaching something ultimate. Stop kidding yourself, though, come now. She’d cry, and you can see what her face would look like. Maybe you should go over there, he thought, she doesn’t like this. She doesn’t know what to do about earthquakes.

He exhaled and deflated like a sat-upon balloon. He had already done it. Did it yesterday and today was the first day without it, again, the millionth first day, he thought, looking at that white page. It wouldn’t matter. He looked over at the shelf beside him, containing his favorite books stacked on top of cherry blossoms pressing and drying for an ex-girlfriend back home. They were the last ones he could find – outside on the trees there was nothing but the new growth of spring losing its green as the last rays of sun were sucked down into themselves and away.

When he talked with friends from college they congratulated him on living in another country, going on such an adventure.

Spring, he thought. Its own kind of death. He turned back to the computer screen. The rumbling picked up again, slowly at first but steadily accelerating, and his phone warned him: “Jee-sheen dess. Jee-sheen dess.”

 

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