SK Brownell

Lacuna  | Flash Fiction

In the wide swath of your brother’s guest room, you feel empty. Neither of you has ever been called minimalists. Still, your voice echoes into the depths of the ceiling and across the wide expanse of the floor. From the bed, you can see a white rug that touches nothing else in the room, as if the furniture were only marginal, the page invitingly blank. Last night you lay down on it just to try to fill the space.

You visit. You watch your brother do the dishes, come home from his day job, wake up before sunrise to make the long trek to work. You say nothing, think about your last-minute plane tickets, count the perks of the digital nomad, and try to remember the last time you woke up to an alarm. Your life is full of freedoms. It is amazing how much the terse quills of anxiety settling around your diaphragm make you feel at home.

In your apartment on the other side of the country, in a place known for clam bakes and coastal elites, you do not live up to expectations, not even your own. Maximalism is one thing, but your bed is cluttered with objects. The floor is a sea of boxes and socks. Even clean, your room is a labyrinth of furniture, a life more expansive crammed into the only room a city will allow. You compartmentalize. You organize. Every shelf is two rows deep in books. You cannot keep your space clean. You cannot keep your space.

In the city, the walls close in on you, every apartment smaller than the one before, more cramped yet less full. The bit of you that still believes, will never be able to disbelieve, that cleanliness is next to godliness, the refrain like a bad pop song you can’t unscrew from your head– The part of you that still believes knows that you are a heathen. You are lazy and full of sin. Only a pig would live the way you do, a pig of a sinner. This, in fact, is an insult to pigs.

You find yourself observing the way your brother can do the dishes without listening to music. Can sleep without the tv on. Can sit on the porch for hours reading with only the birdcall to keep him company. Your body remembers you used to be this person too. Now it is only sound that keeps you going. Sound that keeps you from wanting to tear all the silences out. Tear out also the little noises: heartbeats, dry mouth, the squeal of foot on hardwood or thigh on thigh.

You lay back down on the white shag rug and stretch and stretch your body as if it is taffy or a rack. You are trying to grow big enough to no longer be an island, to bore tentacles into the wood grain of the furniture. You are seized by the panic of open water, flat blue and foam, but the ocean around you is air. Your body does not feel real unless it feels contact. You are Giles Corey calling for more and more weight.

Sure, you cannot keep your space clean. But maybe it is not, you see now, the lack of space that does it, but the lack of bodies with which to fill things up. Your body is enough, should be. Your body is always growing, and not only in the way of shedding cells. You can’t shed cells fast enough these days, and when you do, you leave them in a fine mist covering your floor and on the bits of bookcase that poke through the rows of the only other spines that share the room with you.

But your body is not enough. And maybe, you see now, all this reaching outward is not sloth, not gluttony, not covetousness or greed, not a sin for sin’s sake, or a step away from God. Your cells are a community. The spines of the shelf stand tall. The crumbs on your bed and the dust on your desk and the toenail clippings you left on the floor are all just trying to know each other. And still, it is not enough.

Back in the city, your guts unclench, and you relax into your bed, surrounded by objects if not by friends. It is easy to live this way, you recognize, easy to melt into the walls and floors of smaller and smaller spaces, as if compression is the way to feeling whole again as if parts of you are not in cities and countries and bodies other than your own. Thinking that sacrifice is necessary and any little corner of the city will do as long as you can do it by yourself. You do not need to impress anyone. You assert this.

Meanwhile, your brother calls to check you got home safe. Your phone rings under a mountain of papers, the kind you build to make yourself feel busy, the kind you climb and call an adventure. Your family is always calling your life an adventure. When your brother asks you about the week ahead you rattle off plans and clients. Even your answers take up space. When you ask him he says, oh nothing. You hear the sound of dishes lightly clinking, a bright bell filling up hollow space.

SK Brownell’s poetry and plays have appeared or are forthcoming in Typishly Literary Journal, former cactus, Santa Ana River Review, and elsewhere. They are a 2018 Sewanee Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar and winner of the 2015 National Partners of the American Theatre Playwriting Excellence Award. They hold an MFA from Boston University and teach writing at Grub Street.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *