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A Spectral Analysis
Rob Stephenson

What do they call it? There is a word for it. You're hovering around. Running the old tapes in your head. And click. There's something like a sound that makes you turn around and you see all these little events that make a straight line back in time. And you can't imagine how those things didn't make that line before that click went off inside you. You suspect that they shifted around behind you, when you weren't paying attention. I don't know if I ever knew the name of this. But I know there is one. Somewhere there is one.

The day before it happened. I was reading a book. And stopped reading. Staring ahead at nothing. Thoughts swirling. I looked down to read another paragraph. And I saw on my arm. A perfect circle of blue sky and white clouds. Reflected in my watch crystal. And the day before that. I closed the book at lunch. Set it on the park bench. Facing up. A green leaf fell on the bright red book cover. A red green combination without any Christmas connotation. A more surprising interaction of lemony green with stop sign red. And the day before that. I stood up in the tub. The book marked by my thumb inside the pages. Cracked open. Close to the spine. I peed into the draining water. It made pale yellow ripples above gray shadow ripples on the off-white porcelain. And the day before that...

I was sipping hot coffee. The day it happened. The book was closed on the table. Crumbs from the last person wiped off onto the floor with a napkin. Looking at the passersby for at least ten minutes. I noticed the refrigerator. It's like that in this part of the city. Not remarkable at all. Having a blind spot for the things abandoned in the sidewalk. Not pushed up against a building. Not camouflaged in a pile of black garbage bags. But in the middle of the sidewalk. They were all walking around it. The same way I'd walked around broken fans, sewing machines, blenders, computer monitors. All those days before this one.

So different now. These streets. They speak only of themselves. You are not in them. City footprints exist only in the mind. They don't leave marks on the pavement. No traces of your smell. Stronger odors compete. Your movements erased. The thoughtless choreography of crowds. I can't smell anything. Not since I left you.

It stood there. Two sides of the thing visible to me. The backside of it. The cooling mechanism exposed. Covered with a layer of greasy dust. It clung to the large grill. Mixed with cat fur. The other side visible to me. A yellow outline of grime. The shape of the cabinet that rested against it for twenty years. The people walking by it. I couldn't look at them. I didn't like them interrupting my view. I squinted at the brown diagram. It was fraying above the grill. A small toddler. Vietnamese. Broke away from his mother's hand. Ran at me. Laughing. Smacked the window with his palms. Inches from my eyes. He was yanked back by the mother. Hard. The glow left his face. And he was gone.

Inside you. I could see everything. Everything. The way I never saw it before. Millions of colors. Every sound boxed your ears. But I only wanted to smell you. With you. Not the other smells. When you caught the sweat from your underarms on your fingers and held them to your nose. I miss that most of all. You never wore deodorant. No matter how humid the afternoons were.

It's a kind of time machine. When it works. It slows time down. It makes things last longer by taking the heat out of them. Delaying the inevitable rotting process of perishable things. The Vietnamese child's handprints on the glass distracted me. Refocused my thoughts on the window. I was in a corner. Two big picture windows at a ninety degree angle. Late in the day. The light's direction made strong reflections of the passersby. They were walking through each other. I'd never noticed before. These layers of people walking by me on the street. Moving through each other. Unaware. I could imagine these windows weren't just ordinary glass in the late afternoon sun. It was as if they were allowing me to see two different times. One time superimposed on the other. Or maybe two different versions of the same time intersecting. Something like they would put into one of those space shows on television. Space all around me. Filled with light. I had no idea of what I was really seeing. That I was passing slowly through and beyond myself.

The strange bridge that touching is. Why do we pull away from it? You don't know how marvelous it is until it's gone. You don't know what being alone is until you have to scream as loud as you can to get someone to understand that you want them move their little finger and still they pretend they don't hear you and they don't move it.

What really got me was that shaved-headed boy. Shirtless. Abstract tattoo map on his broad chest that couldn't tell anyone how to find anything. On tanned skin. He moved slowly. The color of the coffee and cream in the cup on my table. He passed right into the peroxide blonde. Next to the refrigerator. Same condition. Pulled plug. Discarded. She wore blue eye shadow like wallpaper paste. As if it was the wallpaper. Neon lips. Day-glo canyon. Flabby. Cracked finger skin with press-on tips. She hesitated. They merged there. A moment frozen. Aligned perfectly. A time glitch. The light deceived me. Which one was the reflection? Her bleached hair over his shiny bald head. The pointed tuft of his raven hair sprouting out of her chin. Her open-mouthed frown swallowing his thin pursed lips. His tattoos scrawled on her clinging white dress. Her fools gold loop earrings dangling from his lobes. His tough bullet nipples sticking out of her breasts. Her sagging flesh billowing out from his tensed muscular arms. The fullness in the front of his jeans bulging out between her legs. The hint of her glittery red spikes shining through his combat boots. His head finally pulling apart from hers. Wrenching his body ahead of hers as they moved at different speeds in the same direction.

I want to be inside you again. You wrapped around me. Warm envelope of flesh. Nothing ever felt so good. It's your fault. You made me leave you. I really believed there was somewhere better to end up. There's always another final destination. There has to be. Funny deluded things we are. Never satisfied. Either one of us. I wish I could tell you things. Like how it was better to be inside you than before when I was inside myself.

Inside you. I didn't feel like a man. Part of a man. Is that how it is to be a woman? Sometimes. Forced to be part of a man. The part that stays hidden. Always hidden. So weak in there. I was paralyzed. Overload of sensations. Coming from all over you. Moving in all at once. No wonder you didn't notice me. Couldn't feel me trying to control the colors. The smells. The sounds that bombarded me. I couldn't choose. It was better when you slept. For a long time.

The light was going. The sunlight. The shadows. The reflections. The merging of different times. I looked around inside the café. Half of them had them. Coming out of their shirts. Running up their arms. Marking their calves and framing their pierced navels. Inked flesh. Spreading like calligraphic ivy. On mostly white people. The kind that avoid the light. That boy kept staring at me. Every time I looked his way. Looked at the stars on his triceps. They didn't work. Twin mistakes. They were dark. Too big. One on each arm. Solidly inked in. Ignoring the flesh they were inked into. Making fun of it. How did he decide to do this? What childish symmetry. Not a whim though. That was clear. I used to ask people these questions. I didn't ask him. Better to guess the reason for those stars. I didn't do that either. There were no good reasons for those stars. What possible good are dark stars on arms? They aren't stars. Stars are only stars when they are so full of light that you can't look directly at them or if you can look at them and they are far enough away to make patterns.

If I hadn't spent all that time adjusting to the rush of information, this wouldn't be possible. This not being in you. This being barely me. This me who lost me and you. All I want is to smell you smelling yourself again.

You were so weak. Weaker than I was. That's how I got in. Way inside. Too much to drink. Puking on the sidewalk. When I felt you. Out of the corner of my mind. No resistance. Your will washed away the next morning by some old guy with his green garden hose. Into the gutter. It hit me hard. I fell so hard. Right on the head. I felt only you. That's the way love is. So they say in the songs. The songs that play when you're puking on the sidewalk. In the background. Comes out of nowhere. Headlights blazing. Runs you down. It's the same old story. An accident. Red asphalt. Went the wrong way. Hit hard. Blinded by the light. I picked you. Without knowing anything. The only one nearby. Completely available. Not very flattering. Is it?

I tried to stop it. To get the influx of sensation to calm down. Days and days of trying. To get a message to you. Sometimes. I thought I did. But there was always doubt. Maybe it was coincidence. Some bastard synchronicity. Getting in there. Until the day I made the knife slip. In your hand. Cut your finger. And it felt so good. That blood gushing out. Like the breath in your lungs. But all you. The air inside you is full of foreign things. But the blood is pure. Well almost. It made them all go. Faded away. For those few moments. Only one sensation. One possible direction. It was better than you asleep. And I could feel it. Like it was my blood. Coming out of you.

He kept looking at me. Hard now. Smoking an unfiltered. Brown spaces between his teeth. Between his ears. Dark stars. For eyes. Sucking in the light. The dim café light. His other hand. Touched the leg of another boy. Under the table. That familiar way. Reading a second hand edition. In French. He smiled in return. Didn't stop. Taking in the words. To look up. And see the other one staring. At me. Modular bodies. Made for thoughts. Carriers. Reading the words. In so many books. I never knew. Exactly how that worked. Taking in the words. I always stopped. The words. To study the light. But I did wonder. If the boy reading French. Ever stopped. Long enough to kiss the stars. On the backsides of the staring boy's arms.

The next time. I burned you instead. Made you forget. About that lit match in your hand. It made everything stop. Made you forget. Everything except that burning in your skin. Made you bring the world to me. In a way I could almost touch it. Made me closer to you.

Some of the people walking by. Looked in at me. Looking at them. Looking at me. Now that the light was brighter inside. Than outside. The loud music. Jazz. Coming around corners. The passersby. Into my view. A parade for the vanishing daylight. The streetlights came on. To save the night. From itself. I took off their clothes. In my mind. As they peered at me. Through the handprints. As they walked by. And by making them all naked. I saw it was their bodies that hide everything. Bags of moving flesh. Full of mostly water. And thoughts. That move in every direction. Like the stars. So hard to know. The closer you get to them. The less you can see. You have to turn away at last. Veer away.

I veered right into you. And the taste of vomit. Burning the back of your throat. A mixture of salsa eaten hours before. And the booze on top of it. Sour mix. Lime juice. Salt. Cheap tequila. The kind that gives you the hangover. While you drink it. Makes your breath reek. Your sweat bitter. I could smell it while your head was hanging over the sidewalk. Mouth open. Retching up emptiness. On concrete. Nothing left in there. Just the delicious hash of half thoughts in your liquored brain.

Our star dies a little every day. Every day. We close our eyes to it. Look down. In the sidewalk. Putting on our shades.

The last night. The sky full of stars. Which rarely happens. In the city. It hurt inside you. Beautiful. Unbearable. You wanting it to end. Every day. Afraid to stop. Registering the light. Anyway. Letting it come inside you. For me. You needed the hurt. You needed to lose. To make me lose you. I made you drink. The cheap liquor. In plastic cups. I whispered the words. You thought were yours. And each drink. Made them clearer. Fear coming out. From your pores. I smelled you smelling it. And then I left you. Puking on the sidewalk. You hit your head. Hard. And I wasn't inside you. And I lost you there.

It's hard to remember you. I strain. To find the frustration. I felt inside you. Trying to speak. To you. Through you. Like a burnt book. Blackened pages. Curling edges of a love song. From the radio. Tuned between the stations. Carrying me across. Half of an unknown lexicon. In a broken wheelchair. Stuck in the cracks. In the sidewalk. The cracks. In your hung over brain. The lights all red. Then green. An accident. I hit my head. Hard. And I felt the whole world. Coming out of your mouth. Into a puddle of puke. I don't know why. I didn't turn around then. And look back. For a straight line. A solid chain. To make time clean. Again. Instead I fell. Into you.

The last night. With you. The same as the first. But reversed. Time folded back on itself. Removing itself. I knew all of it. When I left you. Compared to that nothing I knew. When I went inside. Two different times. The same. But in the opposite direction. And when I left you. I stopped knowing myself. Outside you. Outside me. Bare traces. Of the light on every surface. And of the last day. I was myself. Inside myself. In that café. With that boy's dark stars staring into me.

It gets dimmer. Every day. The light won't speak. Outside of you. Not in the clear way. It is the longest dying day. Made of tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. The gradual withdrawal from surfaces. That hold the light. I try to think of when it was all light. Around me. Slowly becoming color. Millions of colors. Tiny increments of joy and pain. Slide into darkness. Long shadows. Cross my mind. Pulling me. I look behind. For a lost corridor. A straight line. A chain of time. Linked together. By the interplay of light. On matter. When I was inside myself. Before I smelled you smelling yourself. But I only move ahead. Towards the dark. The slowest possible fade to black.

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