Back behind the cupboards were the cobwebs and the sediments that straddled fluid and gritty matter, where things untouched and left to the whim of the darkness accumulated, grew, stretched out in miniature tides over the powerless surfaces, spilling only the slightest hints of horror into the realm of the visible.
Jackie felt the expansion of these tiny networks of disgust reach into her, penetrating three dollars’ worth of chocolate and neroli body balm, seeping through a spray-on tan now two days past its promised lifespan, beyond the pampered strata of her skin, making a beeline towards her throat, where it installed silent mantras of self-doubt and guilt. A factory at the base of her throat fleshed out as she sat crouching on the cold kitchen tiles, the exhaust of sudden feelings fumbling forward from her mouth in patternless and quaking intervals.
Luxury’s clinging veils, stacked and undulating, beat against her in a thousand butterfly kisses, carrying a world of cares away on fleets of tiny gilded wings. But some things, being empty, could not be carried away. Holes hid deep inside her chest, unfilled by champagne or wit, cradling unknown ecstasies, the unsettling nothingness calling out to people and to places Jackie didn’t understand.
She hadn’t understood the man who walked the town’s main square day in, day out, with bare but trimmed and oft-washed feet, his hands clasped like old friends behind his back. The man’s basal and distant stare, the work of thoughts that lay beyond the confines of the square and its well-populated host, was punctuated with sporadic scenes of acute awareness in which the man’s face seemed to saturate with color and excitement, his eyes imbued with dew and light to linger on a flower or the uneven footsteps of a child chasing after overfed and lazily dispersing pigeons.
He didn’t seem so much like one of the poor, but more like a town monument, to Jackie, who watched him from the safety of sidewalk cafes, strolling past the foreground of crustless watercress sandwiches and fork-speared spirals of shrimp.
She’d never seen anybody talk to the man, or share anything more than a point or a laugh. A perambulatory statue giving substance to the square he walked, wildly streaked hair gathered in an obedient braid that swished like a horse’s tail behind his head.
Jackie wanted to give the man some thing, some token of nourishment, an artifact of the life she wrapped around the holes inside her chest like a silk pashmina. To see his eyes light up, the breath of recognition clarify the air, the smile of genuine appreciation, warm, infectious, cloying, eternal.
She had arranged three shrimp on a napkin, overlaid with one long strand of chive, the presentation so precise and rich in counterpoint it might have been a perfect logo, if logos were made of seafood or could be rolled up in napkins and generously donated to eccentric men of unspecified psychoses. This thought nervously skittered its way around a particular emptiness somewhere in Jackie’s viscera as she left the shaded cafe terrace and walked towards the north end of the square.
Her fingers tapped out minute tremors against the air and the prized morsels in her hand loosened in their wrapping, the parcel losing sudden weight as one shrimp fell out. Jackie turned, a reflex pouring fast into her joints to retrieve the shrimp, but she recoiled when a pigeon’s head flashed forth and darted at the pink and orange flesh, the pointed beak tossing the shrimp obscenely into the air and attracting the attention of every other pigeon in the square.
A young boy’s steady stream of bubbling laughter rushed over the crowding pigeons like a sudden waterfall and turned, as if by some invisible and joyous inertia, the head of the walking man. He didn’t look at Jackie. Coming closer to take in the free-for-all, the man moved slowly past Jackie and her barely-outstretched hand as she fruitlessly fought to find a phrase of offering that wouldn’t be offensive, that wouldn’t be too personal, that would somehow convey her longing to stop up the vacancies inside her with the kind of calmness, the unfettered, naked movement he so obviously possessed.
A fat, uneven-feathered pigeon late to the buffet walked drunkenly past Jackie’s feet and shat unceremoniously on her beloved taupe suede pumps, the wetness trickling down between her exposed toes.
“Oh, fuck, shit!” the words poured out of her in sympathetic excrement. The man turned and looked at Jackie, his face devoid of the amber glow of new discovery, devoid of the serene lines of total acceptance.
His face, ugly for the first time, frowned at Jackie and her helpless isolation from a moment shared between a real person and the real world. And so she left the square, two shrimp still in hand, and sank inside the leather silence of a taxi, taken home to tuck the holes to bed on the superficial face of cleanliness and sanity on the kitchen floor.