Jim Meirose

I Search

          Now, I can’t find it anywhere. Up here, the nailpoints thrust down though the roof sheathing. The joists slant upward. A single bare bulb glares. Sharp shadows move into the corners. I search. The chimney thrusts up through. This box doesn’t have it. That box doesn’t have it. Blankets and sheets and comforters. Bed springs. A tire. I can’t find it anywhere.
          Where could it be, I call down to her.
          Well I don’t know what the big deal is you don’t need it anyway.
          I bite my lip. I hold my tongue. I do need it. It is a big deal. But I hold my tongue. You see, I’ve had it since I was fourteen. Or at least I used to. Until I lost it.
          Her footsteps go downstairs and fade to nothing. I spend more time going through boxes until I am satisfied that it is not here. I wonder if it’s under this floor sheathing? No. It would not be under this floor sheathing. I go down the steps into the upper bedroom and shut the door behind me. Can’t let the cats get into the attic. They’ll end up somewhere they’ll never get out of. Into some far corner there’s no way to get to. I stand in the upper room and see green plastic containers stacked against the wall. There’s a heavy television on top of the stack. Might not want to move that at all. Too damned heavy. I’m not into heavy today. Open the closet. There’s a dresser in the closet. Check the drawers. More sheets, blankets, comforters. Checked; plaid; plain brown; stark white. How do these things accumulate so? And what will become of them? Nothing will become of them. They will go in a dumpster set in the driveway. Anyway, it is not here either. I turn from the closet and she is there, much younger. Her hair hangs lank.
          Nail up a wall, she says. A wall like that, and like that. Build them around my bed. Get a chair and a small table and put them by the wall. I will be shooting tomorrow and need this set built. Let’s go buy wood. Let’s go buy sheetrock. Let’s get this job done.
          I obey. She made movies then. I help her any way I can. I nail the two by fours right into the floor and the walls go up and it is what she wants. But now there is nothing. And I still have not found it. Where is it it’s got to be God-damned somewhere here—I go to move the television off the boxes and I put it on the fake parquet floor. I go through the containers. There are books. And magazines. And old VHS tapes. And old cassettes. Nothing of value though, just junk. The books and magazines had value only when they were being read. The VHS tapes had value only when they were being recorded and played back. The cassettes had value only while there was still a player to play them on. And what I am seeking is not in the containers. It is not in this room. I leave her standing by her bed and I leave switching off the light bringing the dark down around her, and she disappears back into the past where she will exist forever, her and her movie sets and her movies. I go down stairs and switch off the light in the stairhead. Dark drops down behind me. I turn right. I go in the bathroom. There’s water puddled around the toilet. The floor is wet behind, the water steadily drips from the tank. There’s water backed up in the tub and in the sink. The water is black. The smell is bad. I press on the tile walls of the shower stall and they give way. The wallboard is sodden and moldy. Tiles fall off the walls into the tub water. I have to look though. I have to look everywhere. I get on my knees and go under the vanity. There are multicolored containers of cleaning chemicals stacked up under there. They have leaked and there’s an angry slimy mess. Water is dripping from the joints where the pipes enter the faucet. The floor tiles are loose and crunch when I step on them. I leave the room and switch off that light too. But for the water being still on, this is the bathroom of an abandoned house. This is the bathroom fifty years into the future. I close the door because I don’t want to see it anymore. Someone will buy the place and turn on the water and see what I have seen. Someone else will clean up under the vanity; scrub, and scrub, and curse and curse and curse, as I would.
          And it is still lost.
          I keep looking.
          The bedroom door is open. I slip in. The wallpapers’s hanging in strips. I go through the mirrored dresser’s drawers. There is clothing as though someone lives here. That is the oddest thing. No one lives here any more. I pull out the clothing onto the floor. It is not here. There is just clothing and more clothing. I go to the other side of the bed and the tall dresser is the same. Plus there are books and papers. There is junk. Old clocks and hairdryers and even some old antique books—but I go though the nightstands. They are full of bedroom junk, statues and stuffed animals and jewelry boxes and lipsticks and rouge, but it is not there. I turn. There is suddenly a couple having sex in the bed. A holy moment of conception perhaps. There is suddenly a couple having sex in the bed. The smell is strong. I turn away. I turn back. The bed is empty again. There is just a mattress with the sheets all black with layers of dust. I cannot breathe. There was a couple having sex in that bed—yes, here he is—the man stands before me.
          Why are you here to disturb us?
          Why did you walk in on us that way?
          What are you looking for?
          I turn from him and he is no more.
          I turn back to him, and he is there again.
          See he is no more real than anything else here.
          The main point is, I still have not found it.
          I leave the man standing there naked.
          The woman’s in the bed holding the sheet up to her breast.
          Everything is filthy, filthy.
          And I still have not found it. I close the door of the empty room. There is no one there. There might have been once. But I didn’t find it. So there’s not any more.
          There’s another bedroom. I enter. There is a bed with filthy sodden moldy books under it. There are bugs. The bugs scatter as I enter. There are no sheets. There’s a playful cat border of wallpaper around the top of the walls. I pull the filth out from under the bed, because it just might be there—but it’s not. There is just one dresser in the room. I rifle through it—there are clothes. The bugs scatter. This is disgusting. The cloth is old and faded and brittle and rips as I rifle through it. There’s a telephone book on the floor, soaked. Why is everything under the bed soaked? Why let a breeding ground for bugs go on? The floor is an old golden threadbare rug. The window curtains hang in tatters. There’s a closet—I go through it. It’s packed full of men’s clothes—suits, shirts. There are old computers in there. I feel around behind everything and the thing I seek is not there. I pull my hand out grimy, and I turn. The girl stands in the corner, proud that she is keeping me from it. I ask her.
          Where is it?
          Keep looking.
          She laughs. Her black hair shines.
          I said where is it? And why do you keep such a filthy room?
          She just stares. I turn and look away from her and send her back into the past, and I leave the room. I shut the door behind me and the latch clicks with a loud snap, almost as if someone has locked the door from inside. I try the door. It is locked. Now how could I have been so foolish as to set the lock from the inside before I left and shut the door? I must have done that, because without me there to look at her, there is nobody in the room, and nobody to lock it. There’s another door, another bedroom. I go in. A child is sleeping in the bed wrapped tightly in the covers. Yellow blanket with cute kitty faces. There’s a dresser and changing table in the room, and a nightstand by the bed. But she is sleeping so soundly. Is she sleeping soundly enough that I can rifle the drawers without waking her? Her blonde hair shines. Her eyes are tightly closed, almost as if she were pretending to be asleep. Is she pretending to be asleep? Maybe, I think. Then I think what difference does it make if she wakes up? I will just look away from her, and she will be gone. I look away from her and she is gone and now it is good to be in the room alone so I can rifle the drawers. I mean if a tree falls alone in the forest, no one sees it, no one hears it, does it make a sound? Or does it even ever fall at all? Or exist at all? Enough of this bullshit. I go through the dresser. I go through the changing table. I go through the nightstand. What I seek is not there. There is a closet in the room. I open the door. The closet is packed tight with women’s clothing. Lightly I run my hand behind the boxes on the shelf and I check through the shoes on the floor below the dresses. Nothing. I decide the child should be again, so I look at her. She is just the same. I have succeeded. But I have failed. What I seek is not in this room. I look away and behind me the bed empties and becomes a bare filthy mattress and the beautiful lace window curtain is all brown stained and tattered. The room begins to close in on me. I leave the room but I do not close the door. I feel sad that I have to leave the child, because with me gone she is not. Her yellow blanket with cute kitty faces is gone. I can’t stay there though. There is a whole house to search. I go downstairs to the parlor. The shades are drawn on the picture window and it is dark. I do not want to open the shades though because then a whole world of people will exist outside the window, and someone will see me, and I will be caught, so I walk through the dark to a dust covered roll up desk. I open it. Papers. Folders. Envelopes. Pens. A calculator. A clock. What I seek is not there. The desk has a drawer. I open it. There is nothing there and I am stunned, this is the first empty drawer I have found in this house. Why is it empty? Where is whatever it held? What I seek is not there, of course—so I slide shut the drawer. There’s a couch. I slide it over to see under it. There are cat toys. There is a tennis ball. The dust rises from the couch and in this dark space it is as though I am going through a just opened ancient tomb. There’s a birdcage but no bird. The doors hang open. There’s a coffee table. The top lifts. There is a storage space under the top. It is full of cards; Christmas, Birthday, Halloween, Anniversary, and more. I run my hand through under the cards. Nothing there. I let the top fall shut with a bang. Here’s a love seat. I move it to see under and there is nothing but the rotten moldy stained rug that covers the whole floor, wall to wall. This room is hundreds of years old it seems. There are pictures on the walls. I recognize them as pictures of the child who had been sleeping upstairs. She must have been real once. She must have lived. Theres a blue armchair and I pull up the cushion to check underneath and a boiling cloud of dust envelopes me. Coughing, I drop the cushion, foolishly, because it makes more dust come up. Suddenly I turn and a woman is standing there holding a glass half full. She speaks. I recognize the voice as the same one I heard when I was in the attic.
          What are you doing in my house, she says.
          I am looking for something, I reply.
          Well, she says—you’ll never find it. I can tell by the look of you you could never have a house as fine as this. You don’t belong here. Why should there be something of yours in my house? I am going to call the police.
          She steps toward a phone and I quickly snap my gaze away from her so she will not be and cannot call the police. That’s how it works with me you know. It’s great to be able to control your surroundings like this. There’s a dining room stretching off the parlor. There a wooden table with a great scar across the top, and the laminate of the wood is all separated around the edges. The chairs are cobwebbed. One is apart. There’s a cabinet on the wall. It is open and empty. It is of blonde wood and looks fairly new. Then I realize something that makes me rush upstairs. I forgot to check the linen closet in the upstairs hall. There are towels and blankets and sheets and toiletries on the floor. It is shadowed inside. Though what I seek may very well be there, I am afraid to rifle it. I just know that if I push my hand under the towels something living in there will take my hand off. I will have a stump, and I will find myself lying in bed thinking about how will it be to live out my life without a right hand. Like in that movie—remember that movie? Some awful movie about some awful creature. But I rifle the shelves anyway, I paw through the toiletries. Something sharp scrapes my hand—see? See? It’s like I thought. There’s a living thing behind the towels and sheets and blankets and toiletries. But what I seek is not there. So, safe now, I shut the door and go back downstairs into the dark parlor. An open casket and a sharp dressed corpse and wreaths and vases of flowers would not be out of place in this room. Nor would a flowery funeral parlor smell. But there is no such thing, thank God—I go to the dining area and there is a hutch. The glass of the front is all smashed and scattered around on the rug. It leans forward as if about to topple. It is full of music boxes of all kinds—animals, people, birds, fish, houses—and there is a statue of the Virgin in the hutch. I begin checking around behind all the music boxes and the Virgin speaks to me from inside the windings of the rosary wound about her.
          Take them all out. Wind them all up. Fill the room with music, like it used to be.
          How can someone disobey the Virgin?
          Fifteen minutes later the dining room table is covered with music boxes all wound up and playing—I only found one or two that didn’t work. There is music, each box is playing its own tune, it is a cacophony of light bright jingle-jangle. The Virgin smiles at me. The room is now cheerful. The dark is lifted. There’s a family seated around the table. There’s a turkey. There’s stuffing and cranberry sauce and yams and mashed potatoes. It would be a fine scene but the family eats greedily, quickly, sloppily, in time with the dozens of music boxes playing in the room. What I seek is not here; the din oppresses me. The man at the head of the table looks at me and speaks while chewing.
          It took five hours to cook this turkey—won’t you join us?
          There is one empty chair next to the child who had been sleeping upstairs.
          Come, says his wife—join us.
          No I can’t—and I rush from the dining room into the kitchen and as I pass through the door the music stops and the darkness drops all around me and I cannot see. I feel my way along a counter edge to the sink. I get a splinter, and I softly curse. My hand presses a light switch there, but of course, it does not work. But I look up at the lamp hung from the ceiling and the light goes on. While I look at it, the light is on—when I look away from it, it goes out and once more it is dark. It becomes a game of looking up at the light and then quickly turning away and locating a cabinet or drawer to feel my way toward when the light goes out and to rifle through in the dark. I work my way around the room like this checking each kitchen cabinet and drawer but what I seek is not there, or at least I don’t feel it—and then I open the refrigerator and it lights up bright as day, shines like a holy shrine of grace and there is just one pat of butter in it—wrapped like butter you’d get with your bread before the meal at a restaurant. It is a golden pat of butter. It is some kind of special butter to be enshrined in this way. There is nothing else in the refrigerator and suddenly the motor turns on to cool the thing, and then I slam shut the door. The dark drops down on me again. I look up at the light. It goes on. I stare at it. It is somewhat like staring up at the sun except the sun will not go out when you look away from it. At once someone is in the door leading back to the parlor—it is the child. I look down from the light and the black drops over the child like a shroud. The child says from within the black shroud Why are you in the kitchen, where it is so dark? Why not come join us at the dining room table, where it is light—and I step toward the child and through her and the dark around her is like wisps curling in the air all around me and they dissipate and she is gone and the room is bright and the music boxes are playing, but slower now, since they have run down, and I can hear the sounds of a meal coming from the dining room around the corner—forks tapping on plates, knives scraping on plates, a general low murmuring of the occasional word spoken and at once I know I have to get out of the room before the music boxes are all run down, so I go down the stairs to the level that holds the foyer and family room. A balding man sits in a recliner and he is old—he is watching television in the family room. He looks like that’s all he is good for. He does not see me. If they are not looking at me, I am not there. He holds a large grey remote control and is not looking at me, he is poised to flip the channel. A dim sexless voice drones softly from the television. I step to the side into the foyer and I see the tall blank blackstained warped front door and the open closet doors to the side, and I step further in to the foyer and there is a door and a little powder room, with a vanity and a filthy sink with ring stains around it, and there is a toilet. A medicine cabinet hangs over the sink. It has a mirror. I am not in the mirror though, the mirror is flashing between views of the family sloppily eating upstairs and the old man sitting poised to change the channel—and I look away because I know that if he changes the channel and I see him change the channel, I myself will cease to exist. How do I know this? How do I know anything. I open the medicine cabinet and there are rows of pill bottles—I check them. Percocet—Tylenol with Codeine, Fiorinal, Fiorinal with Codeine, Fioricet, Fioricet with Codeine, Morphine tablets, Clonazepam, Lorazepam, Valium, Xanax, Dexedrine, Oxycontin—all the pill bottles have these kinds of drugs in them, and the bottles are all full. But old they must be, because of the wispy cobwebs trailing from them when they are pulled from the shelf. But this is not what I am looking for—I am looking for something else that I have almost forgotten about. I close the medicine cabinet and check below the vanity. There is a big black plunger. There is old yellowed toilet paper. There is cleanser and a toilet brush and a toilet brush holder. I close the vanity because what I seek was not there, it was clear to see in the tiny space, and I lift the toilet, and it is empty of water. Suddenly feeling the urge, I open my fly and I urinate into the empty toilet and push the lever to flush it, and nothing happens. There’s a small puddle of yellow urine in there now and I back away toward the door of the powder room and at once there is a woman with her pants down on the toilet defecating and reading a book, which is so engrossing that she cannot see me. Suddenly the brown smell boils up around her pink shirt and blonde hair and pushes me from the room before she can look up and see me with her yellow eyes. But I know, that like everyone and everything else, now that she is outside my line of sight she no longer is. It is a terrible feeling of loneliness being the only person on earth in the only room on earth, with the rooms all changing and the people coming and going but none caring as I go through the house. To kill the loneliness I rifle the closet. I remind myself that I am looking for something, and that that is the only reason I am here. It is not in the closet. There’s a sagging shelf of old heating pads and vacuum belts and bags. There’s a cat litter box full of old feces and dried up urine on the floor. It stinks. There’s cat litter spread across the floor. There must be cats here, but I haven’t seen them—oh! I had to be careful not to let them in the attic. Yes there are cats here. I know that. How did I know that? I step back reluctantly into the television room. The old man who had been watching television is gone, though the television is still on. There’s a man in a loose suit and bad wig doing the weather. Snow it says. This tells me the season. I am not looking forward to going outside. It will be cold, if there’s to be snow. Suddenly my eyes focus and I see the ants climbing the walls and scuttling in a line across the floor. There’s a guitar in the corner. It is puddled in blood—I rub my eyes, no—it is not puddled in blood. The ants are to be sprayed—that’s the purpose of ants. They give you something to be alarmed about and to look for and to spray and to kill. There must be crumbs on the floor. Crumbs too small to see. There’s a computer table and chair and a big screened computer against the wall. The light on the router is blinking as the light on the modem is also. I go over and switch on the computer but it doesn’t go on; something must not be plugged in. The cracked walls flow with grease. There a smashed sliding glass door behind the recliner the man had been in and I go and open it. There’s a porch. It is cluttered with stuff. It is cold on the porch. This looks like a likely place for it to be; that which I am looking for. There are windows all around but blinds are pulled down; I check the cabinet up against the window and the drawers are all empty; there’s a big box spring leaning against the wall. There’s a door leading to the back yard, I think, but I dare not go out there. I would be caught. That would be wrong. I check the patio furniture stacked in the corner; I check the dated huge big screen television sitting dark and dust covered, and the hundreds of books scattered about. I stand in the middle of the porch and I look around. Nothing, nothing. It is not here. I go back in and the old man is back on the recliner with the remote poised to switch the channel. There’s a woman giving the news on the screen. There’s a small bookcase; I check the shelves. There’s a clock shaped like an eye. There are cobwebbed knick-knacks. There’s a picture of a white cat on the wall in a chrome frame. I step away from the old man—why is he not seeing me? Why is he not speaking to me? Is he, too, one who only sees what they are looking at and like me, when he’s not looking at me, I don’t exist? Yes, yes he is. I remember now. I duck out a door to the right and I find myself in a garage. The door is a steel fire door. There are shelves in the far wall. They sag with the weight of heavy tools stacked there. Here’s a snowblower; there’s a child’s wagon; there’s the ant spray. Should I take the ant spray in and take care of the ants? No, I think. This is not my house to give a shit about. I am after one thing and one thing only—suddenly the door opens, and the old man is there, stooped and grey, with the remote in his hand. He must have seen me.
          Why not come in and watch some television with me? Television is good. It gives you the news. It gives you the weather. Come, come. You will see them make the weather be what it will be tomorrow because they talk about it now. They cause the weather you know. They cause the weather—
          The old man keeps saying this and I see his eyes are focused on a dead horseshoe crab hung on a nail across the garage from him. I examine a plastic bag in the corner. There’s a cat face in the bag, all bone. The cat face has fangs and I put it down quickly and I push my way out of the garage past the man who is still unfocused and speaking.
          —they cause the weather you know. They cause the weather—
          I push past him and I run into a door set in the wall across the foyer. I open the door—the knob won’t yield—the door is locked. I turn around.
          Old man, I say. Can you unlock this door?
          He turns back around and sees me as if for the first time.
          Of course, he says politely—but do I know you? I must know you if I am to unlock the door—
          I am looking for something. This is the door to the cellar I take it.
          Yes, it is—here—
          The door opens and the man turns away and goes back in to his recliner and his television. I go through the door. There are steps down. There is water on the floor. There is a boiler and a hot water heater and a washing machine and a dryer. All the appliances are covered with soot and grime and dents and wires hang loose from the ceiling. There are many cat litter boxes stacked against the far wall—there are cellar windows looking out on overgrown grass that you can’t see beyond—and there is one last door—it has to be. There’s a small room in the cellar and it has to be. I open the last door. The light switch works. There is a bare bulb hung by a wire from the ceiling. There are no other doors in the room. This is the last room—it has to be. There are bare rotting joists. There is old tattered tar paper. There’s a crucifix with a bloody heart leaning against the wall. There is an electrical panel, and there is a large cabinet with many drawers. I begin to rifle them. I slosh in the inch of water on the floor. Something has ceased to work, or has leaked, or has broken down somehow to cause this water on the floor. Black mold creeps up the walls—the water has been here for years, and I am at the bottom. The sump pump is there. It is not working—and all of a sudden the weight of the house above me starts to bear down on me—the people and the rooms and the dinner and the music boxes and all the rest—all the doors and cabinets and furniture. The nailpoints pierce down from above, and the weight presses me and I open my mouth, and it is pressed out of me! The thing I seek! I had it all along! It comes from my mouth and I hold it in my hand, and she is suddenly there—and she takes it! She is there with her waxen hair smelling of blown out candlesmoke and church walls. She takes it and she holds it high—and with one quick thrust down, she plunges it through me, and the water splashes, and all is black. All is black and I feel my way out and up and to the left, and out. Somehow I leave the house. I have it in me. I have what I sought at last. I pull it out and I run up the street with it held high and yelling—and the great brown crickets jump before me, leading me as I have been led all along.

Jim Meirose's work has appeared in Otoliths multiple times and also in numerous other magazines and journals, including Collier's Magazine, the Fiddlehead, Witness, Alaska Quarterly review, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Two collections of his short work have been published and his novels, "Claire","Monkey", and "Freddie Mason's Wake" are available from Amazon.
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