from “Radiance” by Jonathan Mack


FULL STORY APPEARS IN THE JULY 2010 ISSUE!

I should not have looked.

If only!

I should never have looked, not peeked.  It was too much for me.  Not that I am such a weak man.  (Well, only in this way.)  I should have covered it up soon as I saw it, the crack in the wall, the crack I found in the back of the closet while I was in there rearranging my collections.  I could have filled it up with quick drying cement, a few coats of paint.  I could have simply ignored it.  Most people would.  Many people must live, day after day, with cracks in the walls of the rooms where they live and never once yield to this magnetic itch: the urge to turn off all the lights, crouch down, put an eye to the crack in the wall and peep.

I am, overall, a reasonable, respectable man.  You’d like me if we met, I think.  Well.  To be likeable requires charm and also force, a visibility I don’t possess.

Some people make themselves seen; they shine their shoes and rush up to shake your hand.  Some of us do not.  I’m too dim, too drab, but I am confident nonetheless that if you met me at work (credit authorizations) or on the street you would find me, at very least, inoffensive.  I’m a restrained man.  I have never once struck anyone, never kicked anyone in the crotch, kneecaps or elsewhere.  My voice in public is courteous and subdued.  I am, overall, a very reasonable and sane person except for my eyes which are two mad dogs always straining forward, pulling me ahead, two big dogs jumping up, snuffing about.  Crotch dogs.

The rest of my organs are very subdued, very sane.  All except for my eyes.  My eyes and, I suppose, my mind.

On the other side of the wall is a man.  Alone, as I am, but seeming not to mind.  He lives, as I do, in a bachelor’s studio with a sliver of a kitchen and a splinter of a bath.  His door opens into another hall, another staircase in this labyrinthine ramshackle low-rent complex, so that I have never met him while struggling with the groceries or going out for the mail.  He looks like a friendly sort of person, the kind who’d give you a nod, at least, even in a city like this one.  He might even volunteer to carry a bag if he noticed you struggling.  He has very sturdy arms; all his limbs, in fact, look very amiable.

The crack in the wall is, I estimate, slightly above and to the right of the man’s television.  So that I often saw him sitting turned toward me, gazing off to the side.  He was very fond of television, content to sprawl his long arms and legs over a chair and abide there for hours.  Personally I loathe television.  It is dull to watch.  Nonetheless, I admire the feckless courage of TV viewers.  How can they imagine they have time to waste?

As for me, I am a theorist.  A collector.  I was rearranging my collections when I found the crack in the wall.  I’m someone who has big ideas.  (More about this later.)  The man on the other side of the wall is only my latest, and most compelling, object of study.  In my closet I have gathered a number of popular astronomy texts, a life of Edison and the Pocket Upanishads, as well as a number of photos culled from newspapers and magazines in which the subject appears strangely illuminated, pictures that might prove something or might not, like photographs of ghosts.

The man liked to talk to his television–always in a very sensible and amiable manner.  He said, ‘Good Morning’ to the morning show, yawned at comedians, and did not seem to take anything personally, no matter how awful the nightly news became, as if everything he saw were happening in a country not his own, which he was only visiting.  At no point, of course, was he aware that he was, himself, a thousand times more interesting than anything he was watching.

I saw–and I knew.  Crouched in the dark, my nose tickled by the crumbling plaster, I watched him hour after hour.  The empyrean mysteries are introduced with simple questions: will he rub his taut belly now?  Will he stretch?  Will he yawn?  Is it time for dinner yet?  Is the world a concern?  Do his balls itch?

I watched him for hours, night after night, because–because I am a lonely pervert?  No.  Because it is my work.  My duty on earth.  I am a theorist, you understand, of the order most rarefied.  I am the student of a theory and I’ve spent all my life in its tracking and pursuit.  It’s a very tricky theory, a theory of consummate delicacy.  As soon as you look at it, it vanishes.

Yet it is there.  I’m sure of it.

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