GIVETHEREADERSWHATTHEYWANT!
One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.
11/2/11-STEVE KAY

Frank’s Fortune

For four or five days now, when Frank sat to begin his morning meditation he noticed a dustball in the corner of the room.

This was antithetical to his purpose, and irked him to no end. Frank would remove the clump of dust, sit again on the mat, and resume his ritual. But introducing a curiosity, unexplained, no matter how inconsequential, was a cruel subversion to his psyche.

Throughout his life, Frank had been interested in everything, and felt this natural curiosity had served him well. His wide-spread interests and intentness on figuring things out had turned him, over the years, into a highly capable handyman.

But handyman was an inadequate word. There are people who fix things with which they are familiar. Perhaps they have taken a class to gain this familiarity, or tutored under some expert. Frank was one who through a life of thought and active exploration understood the mechanics of things. He could not turn off this curiosity, and when presented by a friend’s tricky leaking roof, or an odd sound coming from a car engine, would apply his interest and growing volume of experience until the issue was resolved.

This mindset of disciplined research and logical application had served him well during the Vietnam war. At the age of eighteen, Frank had volunteered his already considerable talents, and had quickly been taken under the wings of a skilled helicopter repairer. The work he had found in fitting and repairing the bulging, twin-engined Chinooks had allowed him to focus on concrete solutions, and helped him to ignore the gross fallacies in the individual and systemic approaches to the situation surrounding him. It had proved a sufficient distraction until he had spent a night by the bed of a dying friend, and been undone not by the friend’s suffering, but by his confessions and the barbarities they revealed. Removed from personal experience as they were, these images and their revelation began to wear on Frank’s psyche. Several months later his tour of duty was thankfully completed, and he began to find some peace when he adopted a meditation practice he had witnessed among the villagers.

It was not long before Frank met Elaine. She had immediately labeled him a “tinkerer”, and he had recognized in her another soul content with the practical nature of things. Their uncomplicated approach to their relationship had forged it evenly and thoroughly. What might have been called “tepid” by some was to them deep and fundamentally sound. Frank had no doubts that Elaine would have preferred a little more romance, but she had grown up sister-less, with three brothers scattered around her in age, and was accustomed to the male substitutes for affection.

Elaine had died when the simple procedure of a benign tumor removal had gotten complicated by a nicked artery. Frank’s hurt was dull and long-lasting. After a brief tightening that nearly killed him with unaddressed solitude, he had eventualy, with help from his meditative practice, made his life softer and more wide-spread. He became settled among the relationships of people surrounding him, in his neighborhood and among more distant friends. The meditations remained a regular buttressing of his ability to be at ease in the world, and to bring himself to it in a spirit of generosity.

But when he came to be greeted by the same ball of dust each morning for nearly a week, his mind began to rile against the quiet state he had meant for it, and to turn again to discovery. The room was kept fastidiously clean, and had no traffic through it other than Frank’s morning ritual. The house had begun to feel too large since Elaine had died, and portions of the house would go unused for weeks. Yet, every morning, in the same location, sat the same clump of hair and dust, seemingly undisturbed from the morning before. Frank kept the windows closed, and no one else used the room. Frank lived by himself now, these past eleven years. He knew the house well, and understood that its settling plaster walls and gapped hardwood floors provided no end of random debris. But the nagging pulled at his unconsciousness throughout his routine.

Frank placed his preferred guided meditation CD into the small blue portable stereo that sat on the floor next to his mat. “Picture yourself lying on a beach,” the soft-spoken Asian lady intoned, to the sound of waves caressing a sandy shore. “Feel the gentle breeze carrying the salty air over your body.”

Some breeze was usually required for making these sort of miniature tumbleweeds, Frank thought, and wondered if a draft from the door might circle imperceptibly around the room, gathering only the most negligible particles until they collected mass, clung to each other by diaphanous threads, invisible particles becoming tangible through their reverse attrition. But this was no good. He knew he kept the floor clean, and no amount of gaps could produce what he saw daily in this room, as it did nowhere else throughout the house.

“Envision a ball of white light travelling up your spine, energizing and calming the muscles of your back and shoulders. This warm, soft ball-”

Frank’s ball of light was filthy. He wanted to sneeze just thinking about it. Could there be a cat getting in under the house? Surely it wasn’t getting into the room. Mice, rats? He pictured them gathering in that corner, somehow planning their regime of breaking his sanity. Huddled together, intentionally shedding and laughing. He chuckled at himself and refocused on the CD, unconsciously glancing into the corner.

Seeing the spot again, he knew his mind was not going to allow him release. He rose from his lotus position and began to inspect the offending area. He checked the base mold and window trim for any gaps. None were found, Frank having caulked and painted the entire room just a year before.

Is this the kind of thing I’m going to let mess with my morning? Frank asked himself. Am I beholdedn to clumps of dust now? Yet there was something undeniably illogical, something unkempt in the order of the universe. Something does not come from nothing. The thought plagued and unnerved him.

So Frank began collecting the dustballs. Each morning he would gently scoop up the new one onto a sheet of paper and place it among the growing infantry on his desk. If he left the dustball, two would be there in the morning. Eventually he had twenty-one dustballs, all lined along the back edge of his polished mahogany desk. Each resembled the other as closely as possible. He took care not to disturb them, wanting to preserve their original state. For a week, he focused on resuming his meditation after collecting the dustball, but soon relented to the futility of ignoring his curiosity. He recorded the dustballs, took measurements, placed them on gridded paper and took pictures, and deconstructed a couple to make sure they were simply dust and hair. The others he left in pristine condition.

What counted for pristine with a dustball? How much effort could one devote to the study of dustballs? Frank found a dearth of information on the subject, which he first deemed understandable, then frustrating, then maddening. Tumbleweeds held only an illusory likeness; the relation went no further than vaguely similar appearances.

He studied the choesiveness of cobwebs, a phenomenon he’d always mistakenly related to spiders, and was surprised to find were in fact strands of dust, colleted together by the most tenuous of attractions.

After three weeks of study he purchased an internet camera, hooked it up to his laptop, and left it running overnight, recording the spot where the dustball would appear.

Upon watching the video, Frank began to see a subtle static entering the picture which grew and congealed, taking over the center of the frame. It appeared to be a distortion or faulty compression of the image at first. He could almost hear an electronic hiss growing as he watched the screen. Then he realized he was staring at an image of the dustball, and despite rewatching the video multiple times, could not pinpoint the transition from ball of static to ball of dust. The similarity was somehow fundamental, and he began to wonder whether the electronic static were not somehow more of a vortex of physical particles forming in space. The camera’s low resolution may have been to blame, but at any rate the video showed something inherently outside of his experience and expectations of the natural world. The recordings Frank made on the following nights showed the same sequence, but were inconsistent in the timing of the formation.

Finally Frank resolved to stay awake and observe the phenomenon with his own eyes. Thinking “I’m too old for this nonsense,” he prepared by resting as much as possible the day before, and brewing a large pot of coffee. Then he set himself on his mat and began his vigil.

He was determined not to remove his eyes from the spot. He could not lie down, for fear of falling asleep. And so Frank waited. The night grew from focus, to boredom, to discomfort, to resolution, and when it was over, and the sun was rising, there was no dustball. Frank acknowledged the creep of light with bleary eyes and a shocking awareness. The dustball was nowhere to be seen.

Through this intensity of focus, Frank became slowly aware of a voice.

A faint but determined woman’s voice came from the floor below. “Frank? Frank, you alive in here?”

It was Ada, his elderly neighbor. Frank’s focus was alleviated by the light of another’s concern, and the perspective it gave. He hadn’t seen Ada in almost two weeks, an unheard of oversight in their relationship of looking in on each other. Frank rose stiffly from his position on the floor and opened the door.

“I’m fine, Ada. Be right down.”

He took one last look into the corner, more to become accustomed to the idea of nothing appearing there than to assure himself. His night of focus had given birth to an unwarranted clarity. Frank left the room, eager to see Ada and refocus on the people around him.

Ada stood at the bottom of the large staircase, both hands planted firmly on the walking stick in front of her, challenging him with the stare of a schoolmarm in her handsewn toille dress. “You plan on joining us living folks again? Or you gonna hang out with those Goth kids at the mall?”

Frank chuckled as he descended the stairs. Ada’s sharp wit was legendary among their neighbors, and he realized he had sorely missed it. Facing her now, he felt a little foolish. “Oh, I just had something I had to work on. Guess I got a little preocuppied”

“Well you need to work on cleaning house. I opened a window in your study to let some air in, let some filth out.” She waved a hand dismissively to the door on her right and began to shuffle past Frank to the kitchen. “Your dust was starting to collect dust.”

Frank’s eyebrows shot up for a moment, unnoticed by Ada. Tilting his head, he made a quick survey of lightly billowing curtains and a clean desk. He started to speak, then a comfortable smile eased onto his face, and turned to fall into step beside the shuffling woman. “Thanks, Ada. Care to have a cup of tea with me?”

“Well, I know you’re proabably desperate for company. But I can’t hang around all day.” She retrieved her customary Batman mug from its place on the counter and approached the cushioned bench of the breakfast nook. She held out her hand for Frank’s without looking, even as she made to sit. Frank helped her settle in, and she lifted her chin almost imperceptibly toward the yellow sunbeam that graced the back of the house of a morning. “Just one quick cup, and I’ll be on my way.”

Frank smiled to himself as he placed the full brass kettle onto the stove. “Sure thing.” He took the containers of margarine and jam from the fridge, and set them on the table along with a box of Melba toast. “In the meantime, you can catch me up on real life.”

 

 

Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.

 

 

7 Comments to “11/2/11-STEVE KAY”

  1. Cole Bennett says:

    Steve: These little enigmatic circumstances are wonderfully full of potential. Oliver has a book (which used to be mine, from way back), called The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It’s by Chris Van Allsburg, and each page is a different, mysterious picture, with a single caption below it. The setup is that this folder of pictures and captions were found in an attic or something, and collected here without knowledge of their original intended use. They really do spur the imagination, and I’ve been reminded of the work a lot in the last few days.

    • steve says:

      Nothing like I would have expected, yet containing some of the underlying feeling (at least for me) of the trigger sentence. Funny in spots, and a most likeable character. Thanks.

      • Cole Bennett says:

        Thanks, Steve. I’ll be honest, this one worked me over. My sticking to the “paranormal/metaphysical” idea of the dustball’s reappearance may have stuck me in a direction it was hard to pull back from. I really got that sense from my first reading of the story starter though, so I wanted to explore it. It’s hard to pull off that mix of mundane and surreal. I really enjoy it in other authors (Etgar Karet being the best example), but haven’t had much practice at it myself.

        But I, too, liked Frank. It was fun exploring that depth of detail in his life, fitting that much into a small space, discovering it all from the explorations of my first fain inklings about who he was. There’s probably a lesson in there about which part of this piece was the most fun, and maybe the most successful.

        Thanks again for your words, Steve! By contrast with this one, Rona’s abundant starter is not far off!

  2. Pat Bennett says:

    I like Frank too. He reminds me somewhat of you and Gary (and maybe Oliver)! I’m so glad he decided to join real life again. Good read. Keep them coming!

  3. Adam Gillett says:

    As Danielewski’s House of Leaves is the literary reciprocal / corollary of Poe’s Haunted, this could be literary reciprocal / corollary of Bjork’s Unravel. That’s a complement, in addition to being an ACT question.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks, Adam. Thrilled to be mentioned in the same sentence with Danielewski. I’ll definitely check out Unravel now.

Leave a Reply to Pat Bennett

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.