I am the Man Who Can be Still, and I am prone to symbolic gestures. When my mother died I threw out all the flowers in my house. I am not famous. I walk down the street and no one knows my name or tells me how amazing or shitty I am, and the Man Who Can be Still hates it. The Man Who Can be Still can stand absolutely still. He’s never tried to, but he knows he can, knows that he can just stick in time and space with a dull thump and the whole world will come apart against his frame and he will stand alone as space streams passed.
The man who’s the arch-nemesis of the Man Who Can be Still is a real fucker. He sold weed once in high school, and whenever he gets drunk enough, he’ll talk about it. How he’s been so bad. And when he gets older, maybe 35, he will find a fondness for cowboy boots and a thinly faked country drawl, so as to give the impression that he wasn’t born and raised in some very nice suburbs that no one should be embarrassed about having been born and raised in. Something about easy living churns out people like the man who is the arch-nemesis of the Man Who Can be Still, and his name is Ted.
The woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still is wonderful. Her name is Claire. She is ugly when she laughs, but it’s because she gives her whole face to her whole mouth, so that her cheeks crush her eye sockets into the thin silhouettes of spiders and her nose sneers into intense ridges. The Man Who Can be Still is no good at making Claire laugh, but Claire laughs, so it does not matter. And even though the Man Who Can be Still is a quiet man, and almost never smiles, she loves him and is wonderful. At restaurants or in cafes or on park benches, other people stare sympathetically as Claire’s frame bends forward in shivering laughter and as the Man Who Can be Still smiles with his eyes and not his mouth and sips at his coffee. The world thinks that Claire laughs at the Man Who Can be Still, but I know better, and I love the woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still.
The Man Who Can be Still knows things. He knows things like the place he lives in, and he knows things like murder, knows those impulses that guide and give purpose to men, make them walk a certain way, or weep at the wrong time, or hold their breath when breathing is most important. The Man Who Can be Still knows why the men who bought his project are tearing it down. They’re doing it because of the bad fixtures, because of the pipes and the water damage, and because of the people. They’re doing it because it is a place that is leaving already. They do it because they need to buy good bread when they go to the store, and so they can ski in February and so that they can find ways to keep their daughters from hurting them. The Man Who Can be Still empathizes with the people who are tearing down his project, but he feels towards them, much the same way they feel towards him, which is that he is in the way. The Man Who Can be Still though, is in the unique position of having to knock through his obstacles, where as the people who are tearing down the project of the Man Who Can be Still are much more accustomed to watching those things fade from in front of them without ever having to touch them.
The man who is the arch-nemesis of the Man Who Can be Still is in charge of tearing down the project of the Man Who Can be Still. He is confused by the Man Who Can be Still’s aversion towards progress, towards that human tendency that guarantees advancement, a desire to do and contribute to good works. And like the Man Who Can be Still, the Man Who Can be Still’s arch-nemesis understands certain things, and among those things is that the Man Who Can be Still knows Ted, and knows what Ted wants, and knows all the things that Ted knows, and at the very edge of that idea is some grim acknowledgement of something further. Those far things are hugging the walls when he meets the Man Who Can be Still.
Ted stands on one edge of a community stage, present to assuage the concerns of the public, who have not been informed that Ted is present to assuage their concerns. A local bureaucrat, unsure of what he is doing or why he is doing it, sits leaning towards his microphone, not saying anything. The room is empty except for the Man Who Can be Still and the woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still. The Man Who Can be Still is sitting, staring at Ted, daring him to commence whatever thing he has conceived of without a commencement. Ted self-consciously rubs the bridge of his nose and leans in, sweating in the corners of his face.
“If anyone has anything to say about this, it would behoove them, it would, well, go ahead and say it.” The microphone sharpens the edges of Ted’s voice, and his last syllable sounds hopelessly. Ted raises his eyes and wonders if, beyond the lights that sever his view of the audience, more people lurk, people like the Man Who Can be Still.
The Man Who Can be Still stands on his chair. He stands on his chair in such a way that it seems as though he doesn’t care that chairs aren’t for standing on. ‘Shit’, Ted thinks, ‘shit, chairs aren’t for standing on.’ The bureaucrat looks up sharply, his face split into heavy concern and surprise. The bureaucrat wants to fold in his hands, or tap a heavy pen against the fine edge of a desk, dulling the corners of the wood in uneven frustration, but he doesn’t, because it unsettles people when he folds in his hands, and the fight has already left the desk in front of him. The woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still has sunk the back of her head away from where the Man Who Can be Still stands on his chair, her face stretched upwards and shining worriedly. The Man Who Can be Still says nothing, and Ted is terrified, hating himself for letting the Man Who Can be Still stand on his chair, when everyone knows that chairs aren’t for standing on.
A tongue slides dryly against the surface of the bureaucrat’s lips, “can everyone please remain seated?” The attention of the Man Who Can be Still jerks from Ted to the bureaucrat, and in premeditated unity, he tosses his whole arm up and away from his shoulder where it freezes, but not before his middle finger pops up, alone, into the space above his clenched fist. The arch-nemesis of the Man Who Can be Still grows upset. The bureaucrat shifts his shoulders and leans away from where the Man Who Can be Still points his fist and finger, as though the whole effort might simply skip off his body, and into the wall behind him, but the bureaucrat can gleam in the smallest tremble of that outstretched arm, a minute readjustment. The arm and fist and finger stay their mark.
Something despite itself blossoms in Ted’s mind, “sir, I think that’s uncalled for.” The Man Who Can be Still’s second arm lurches out at Ted and turns upside down, dropping its middle finger towards the floor, so that the Man Who Can be Still stands, arms akimbo, immobile in his conviction. The bureaucrat raises his eyebrows, as though the everything is out of his hands, and swivels in his chair to look at Ted. The thing in Ted’s mind moves again, squirming in a different direction.
The arch-nemesis of the Man Who Can be Still pretends to chuckle, because there is no such thing as chuckling, not really, and turns to look at the bureaucrat who smiles obligingly, and then leans into his microphone again, “well if no one has anything to say, then I think we’ll just wrap things up. Thank you everyone for…”
“Hey,” everything goes back. “Hey,” says the Man Who Can be Still, again.
“So, thank you, everyone, thank you all for…”
“Hey,” the Man Who Can be Still does not move his arms, but bobs his head as he calls his words, knocking his chin back slightly at the end of his shout.
“Yes, the gentleman standing on his chair, do you have something to add?”
“Fuck both you motherfuckers.”
“Sir, I don’t really think that kind of language is appropriate…”
“Fuck you both.”
“Alright, well, I think, we’re done here, don’t you agree?” In response the bureaucrat gives an exaggerated shrug, bringing up his palms and his smiling from where they were leaned into his chair. The woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still has begun to laugh. She has clamped her hand over her mouth, but it has vibrated loose, and now she is giving her whole face to laughter. Ted is disgusted. “Yes, well, again, thank you, and if you have any questions, you can feel free to contact our offices.”
“Hey, hey you, you motherfucker,” Ted brings up his right hand, warding off an overbearing parent. “Motherfucker, I’m talking to you, motherfucker.” Ted will not look up, and begins to move away from the light of the stage, taking his cues from the bureaucrat, who is already slipping from behind his desk. “Fuck you.”
The woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still falls out of her chair, eyes devoured by the ridge of her eyebrows and the burning rise of her cheeks.
The father of the Man Who Can be Still had forgotten about the Man Who Can be Still. He stood at his bathroom sink in his apartment in his project and he began to write with someone’s lipstick on someone’s mirror that he was leaving for somewhere. He puts on the suit that the grandfather of the Man Who Can be Still was married in, and he leaves. The note reads, “To whom it may concern, I am gone now.” When the mother of the Man Who Can be Still walks into the bathroom, she runs her finger through “g” in “gone”. It smears only a little, and what comes off the mirror she grinds between her thumb and forefinger. She calls the police and falls asleep before her son comes home.
The project is leaving soon. It’s bad in the stairwells where the Man Who Can be Still used to smoke bones, and now that it’s meant to be empty, the steps have become thick with the smell and texturing of dereliction. The Man Who Can be Still hasn’t seen the Claire because Claire won’t come here. There are people rooting out whatever is left in the project, tearing at the homeless and the lost and dragging them out into the cold sun of winter mornings. The Man Who Can be Still ignores them, stepping quietly past the backs of men paid to find him. For the strangers, who spend their time always on the stairs, shifting from a place to other place, there is no goodness in the project of the Man Who Can be Still.
There is a cock in the lobby. It is set in running lines upon the ceiling, stretched above where the mailboxes have been torn out by someone, leaving perfect gashes arrayed in imperfect symmetry, and it ejaculates a wave of comets and stars that crest at the reinforced double doors to the outside world. The men who come and go cannot understand the goodness in the cock, do not know why it would be left in a place where people live, where children play, and move quickly to be out from beneath it, but the Man Who Can be Still loves the cock in the lobby. He has modified it, playing on the space-travel motif of it’s strange ejaculate. Below the scrotum, the Man Who Can be Still has installed two vast engines which pump smoke and fire into the empty freeze of space. Carefully, he has places windows along it’s shaft, where children press their stick-figure hands to the glass, and on one edge the Man Who Can be Still has installed a huge fin, by which the travelers in the cock might navigate in the currents of nothing. It is the cock in the lobby where the inhabitants of the project have gone, hurtling through the darkness to another home. It is the cock in the lobby that begins the last things for the Man Who Can be Still.
The men come into the project, and one of them glances up, afraid, at the cock above him, and there the faces of children stare back to him. He laughs, and taps the shoulder of the man he works with, who pulls his radio out and says something, smiling, before taking out a flashlight. He touches the end of his Mag-Light against the stars above him, scratching the back of his head for a moment, and then says something else.
Then they really look for the Man Who Can be Still.
They file from room to room, listening between steps, locking doors, and even though the Man Who Can be Still doesn’t move, they find him. At first they think he’s not the Man Who Can be Still at all, and they walk right past him, but they stop a second, and one leans back, pulling his shirt taught across his belly by putting his weight in his shoulders. He sees the Man Who Can be Still and he swears gently, and the Man Who Can be Sill slows down so much that the air around him heats. The man who sees the Man Who Can be Still touches the outer coat of the Man Who Can be Still, and it is so cold that it burns his hand. He pulls his hand away and stuffs it in his mouth gnashing and pinching the dying flesh of his thumb. He yells through his thumb and his teeth, and another man comes into the bathroom, and the Man Who Can be Still speeds up again.
“Hey, this fucker bit me.”
“I didn’t bite anybody, leave me fuck alone.”
Police come in patterned pairs, with deliberate footsteps and hands. When they take the Man Who Can be Still down the stairwell he touches mundane things. There is a place where, when he was twelve, he wrote “9 MILLI GOS BANG.” Since scratched into glass, those words have been cut over by other children. When the Man Who Can be Still touches that place, he feels the marked paths of children break apart his words. The only thing clear over the static of the worn glass, “ArM LeG LeG ArM HeaD,” shines through in deep angles.
The woman who loves the Man Who Can be Still pays bail in a smiling way. She has worked today and she does not want to be here, and she does not really care for the Man Who Can be Still, not now, not with the way he smells and the way he won’t look at her, like she’s caught him doing something. She makes him sit in the back seat on the way to her apartment, and she rolls down the window, so that the wind comes in and comes through the car and runs the smell out from the folds of his jackets.
The Man Who Can be Still takes off his clothes in Claire’s apartment and stuffs them into two black trash bags, one bag is for things he means to keep and one is for things he does not want, but Claire takes both bags out to the dumpster. The Man Who Can be Still does not wash in the shower, but stands under the heavy streams of water until Claire calls him out. When he turns off the shower he stands so still that all the water on his back and thighs flies against the mirror and ceiling in superheated steam. The Man Who Can be Still frowns as a corner of wallpaper curls away from it’s place on the wall, and the change in his face brings the steam back to water in a halo around his chin. The Man Who Can be Still waits a time, and then crosses to the sink, and wipes the water from his mouth and beard and then goes naked into Claire’s apartment.
She has crawled into bed, and has curled herself into a bright comforter, which shines in the light of the window that has been stretched awkwardly to fill the space between the headboard and the ceiling. The Man Who Can be Still pulls the corner of the blanket towards him and slides in against her. Claire uncurls her fist where it clutches at her comforter, and opens her eyes to the Man Who Can be Still. He no longer brings his eyes away from hers. She reaches out and touches the patches of tightly curled hair that have wormed past the bottom of his jaw line, and she thinks that maybe he will be better now. He reaches out to Claire under the covers, with his hands that are always the wrong temperature, and she closes her eyes again, and asks questions. Something leaves her stomach, and her shoulders roll back in a small breath and she does her best to make her eyes look wet, and I kiss her. Her body twists away from me, but she keeps her face against mine, so that the muscles in her neck strain against the position of her thighs and her right breast pushes up through the blanket and top sheet. We have good, tired sex and we fall asleep.
I dream, and when I dream I’m in the project of the Man Who Can be Still. There’s a fair of some kind, with balloons and face-painting, but the whole crowd is shadowed and strangled in the corners of the project, and so I know no one. In the back of a place, a dream place made from the dividers of portable classrooms, I find my mother. She looks down at me, and I remember that I have a secret, and I hope she cannot tell. She asks me if something’s wrong, and I ignore her because I can barely understand her and I try to keep her from looking into my eyes. My mother crooks her neck and it stretches to serpentine length so that it can fall beneath the level of my gaze. Someone pulls at my arm. There is a friend of mine besides me. My friend tells me that I have to see something, that there’s an important thing that he’s found under the project of the Man Who Can be Still. We leave my mother, who stays, unhappy, as her neck coils around her listlessly.
Where the mailboxes were ripped out of the wall in the lobby, someone has broken the crooked perimeter of a hole, an opening two thirds the height of a man that slopes downward towards a lighted and hot place. The friend of the Man Who Can be Still pushes me a little, and I touch the sides of the hole and take careful steps onto dry gravel. At the base of the hole, where the ground stops at an angle and not with the mild grade of a normal hole, the tunnel balloons into a broad and well lit room. There, pressed with paint and carved with sweeping delicacy, the stained engravings of unknown poets smile and frown at nothing. The room circles in on itself, lit by a patterned and slender set of windows, carved in the dirt, and though sunken somewhere below the base of the project of the Man Who Can be Still, sunshine speckles and holds in shining points of heavy light on the textured surface of the painted walls. I cannot keep the features of the murals in my mind, except for to know that they are right.
The friend of the Man Who Can be Still is at my arm again, and he takes me and shows me a place in the floor of the bright room. He kicks at where there is a crack, a little crumbled place where the wall meets the floor that opens into a slender windowed shape. The bottom window is dark, and set with a fantastic symmetry below those higher, brighter panes, so that even though the circled room swims in natural lighter, little can be seen in the hole in the room underneath the project of the Man Who Can be Still.
In dream logic, we climb into the dark place, and despite its smallness, we pass easily through the low window. When we turn to look back at where it sat in the wall, there is a passage of mudded steps that rise to an outside world. The friend of the Man Who Can be Still walks slowly into the darkness and I follow him to find the low room untouched. Dirt and stone is wetted with the uneven patterns of water passing through earth. The room is the same, same as the one from which I have come, but with nothing. The floor donuts around a pillar, uncarved, but layered with debris that seem to be frozen in the sinking way that geology appears to sink but actually rises. I watch the corners of the dark place, and think, for a moment, that something else is there with me, and as I turn to warn the friend of the Man Who Can be Still, long un-nailed fingers catch against his throat. He screams a moment, and is silent as I fly towards the outside, where the thing in the dark place is not. I know that the friend of the Man Who Can be Still has died, alone, in the cave where he was taken, and as I straighten up, having come out of the low, I find myself before the murals. They shine less as the light drops into shades of dusk.
Slowly, to face the dark, I press my back against a woman's silhouette that has been etched against the room's central pillar. She is carved and colored with ghost skin and hard gold tendrils of empty hair, and on the tip of her finger a worm writhes in frozen slowness. I go back through the low window, but it is harder to reach through the hole now, and I am afraid as I stretch my leg down and feel for the floor of the second room. As the end of my shoe touches dirt, a strange knowledge washes over me. The little thing that took the friend of the Man Who Can be Still is hiding in the center of the dark low room, behind the wide division that blots away the more uniform blackness the walls on either side, and I know where the thing stands in the tar and how. It has no eyes, and it doesn't breathe in the space behind the island slab of dirt. It clutches a rock between two stretched hands, biding the long increments between when I enter the dark and when I pass it's form. When I do, it lunges the stone out, crowding it into the palm of my left hand, which is waiting, outstretched. I knock the rock easily away from me, and without meaning to, I laugh. The little thing that killed the friend of the Man Who Can be Still stumbles back in confusion. I run after it, picking my feet up high, and jeering over the thing as it blindly scrambles across the packed dirt of the cave floor. It turns over on it's back, trying to keep its teeth between me and the long soft flesh of its head. I sit on it's chest, and it tries to bite at me, but it can't reach me, and so it only writhes beneath me while I howl. And then, in perfect imitation of my voice, the laughter comes bubbling back from the thing on the ground, pure in form, and we are laughing together, it knashing and flailing but calling out in my voice, and me echoing the sound of me.
Then the thing that killed the friend of the Man Who Can be Still dies and shrinks until it is nothing but the smallest part of what it had been, and I go outside, up the mudded steps and beyond to where, before, the murals had been. Now, I am away from the project, which is still the project, but has become a castle with cloud breakers and blazing domes, clustered on a cliff above the sea. Turf slopes in burning green from the peak of the project's bluff, and on that bright grade a series of roller coasters wind and bask like the bleached skeletons of Chinese dragons. People scream as they are carried past the castle in the shining white cages, and people scream when the castle erupts in clouds of ash and blighted marble. My mother is with me again, and I turn to her where she is, and ask her if anyone will stay. While she answers, the people climb out of their roller coaster cars and jump, together, into the water.