On hold with ConEd, I am informed that it is unsafe to use a gas or charcoal grill indoors. It is unwise to light a match when you smell natural gas. This is also true of actions that create a spark. A second voice, (though it is difficult to remember and perhaps it was the first), interrupts the litany of advice that is expressed by the first voice. The second voice tells me that all the representatives of ConEd are currently busy helping other customers.
It is unclear to me how many customers come before me or how many representatives the Company has in its employ. I imagine there is only one: a haggard worker with a sweat-soaked collar, a mug of coffee, and a bottle of water. The giant wooden and brass switchboard is before his slumping form, endlessly tired. Still, the voice rings out clear and calm in the ears of telephone customers who are as innumerable as the representative is singular.
It is likewise possible that the service representative is a monstrous form, a huge and curving thing full of holes and meaningless protrusions, its many thousand mouths uttering simultaneously into as many telephones. Out of two of these, or perhaps from hundreds, come the first and second voices. This is merely how the creature feeds. The Representative sups the negative resonance of the customer, who submits to this vampiric force, unwitting of the true cause of the fatigue or of the strange resentment. It is when the Representative has satisfied itself with the particular flavor of a unique and important customer that it relents, (“Tired of waiting on the phone? You could have a quick, secure, and easy experience using ConEd.com,” the first voice again explains), and it interrupts itself with a new voice.
The third voice is kind and willing to address my questions and concerns, it bids me good afternoon and appreciates my troubles. In this way, the Representative safeguards a potential meal: a satisfied customer is always sure to call again.
The Dust and the Room
There was a time when I wanted to remove the powder from my room. I cannot recall how long ago I bothered. I gave it up when I realized that my efforts seemed only to further its conquest. My armory of ostrich feathers gathered dust in the closet.
Some years ago, I purchased a humidifier that puttered on the mantle, hoping the clouds would dampen the dust layer. It was supposed to be a sign of truce. Whether or not the dust understood, I had surrendered already.
My guests remarked between their fits of sneezing. Of course, in the days when I fussed about it, the situation only became worse. Perhaps my show of effort pleased my company. In practice, I knew every motion only created a stir. Eventually, I would merely gesture towards a drawer beside the door, where I kept a bag of breathing masks. This was a better solution than my antics ever were.
At work, colleagues suggested that I find alternative housing. 'The dust has addled his brains,' came the murmurs that followed me. I ignored them. I was proud of the thickness of my head, though it cost me my social life. Unfortunately, arriving to work within my plume and assaulting the sensitive noses of any who came near proved unacceptable. The office manager, allergic to mites, laid me off.
I kept my room for two reasons, despite the harm it apparently wrought. First, though it seems I lost my war, I believed in a life of resignation. If dust is composed primarily of dead skin, than the rate of my exfoliation was likely a matter of interest to medical science. Even if I moved to another flat, the dust would only seem to follow me.
The char-person who worked in my building was the focus of my second reason. When this person delivered a rap against my door, I of course held it tightly closed and yelled through the barrier. ‘I do not require your service, but please return tomorrow. Perhaps I will require a cleaning at that time.’ So saying, I would slip beneath the door a powder-white envelope containing a small appreciation to ensure a return. I would take, through the peephole, a glance at this lovely figure as it made its retreat for the day.
It might seem as if I were in love with the char-person. Can love be reduced to a fascination and a desire? Even if I did not lead one, I admired the cleanly life and was amazed by the variety of institutions that demanded it. Of course, my situation had long displaced me from these organizations. For example, the char-person would never consider cleaning such a place as mine, even if such a thing were possible. To be in love with the char-person would be to succeed in my struggle to defeat the dust. I would have admitted a cleaning service to a room that could not be cleaner.
Love seemed to me to be something one has only for what one becomes. I could not have been in love with the char-person because this was but a retreating figure in the hallway, entirely faceless in my recollections. At best I was in love with the ideas of the char-person who kept the place so nicely. I preferred to say that our relationship was only an idle fantasy that was encouraged by a greater love for dust.
It grew, in my estimation, to a depth of several inches. Because of my position on the couch, beneath blankets from which I rarely escaped, I never took its exact measure. A time came when I did not even see the char-person. I desired a uniform layer of delicate sediment, without footprints or trails. In the best of times, only slight impressions remained, as if a great span of time had passed since the last stirring. This way of living came to me with the greatest ease.
On the day that they broke into my apartment, eager to ascertain whether I had deceased, I was watching the door from my position in bed. I looked at them with my red eyes and yelled and frightened them away, but perhaps this effort produced only a dry whisper. Despite their disgust, they perhaps interpreted my rage as a call for help. At the behest of the landlord but at my own expense, I was rushed, unconscious, to the hospital.
I awoke to whiteness and empty smells. Because of my spotless condition it was very difficult to know how long my confinement lasted. Evidently, no time had passed at all. As though they cut it to cancel out the days, I could not tell duration even by the growth of my hair. With compassion they determined that I would be better off if I spent my last days at the hospital rather than in the place of my decay.
When awake, I would stare and listen to the vent that circulated above my head, whisking my particles into hidden filters. And when I was asleep, I would dream of becoming the dust that drifts and settles over every surface.
About the Author
Edward Burt is a writer and photographer living in Brooklyn.
He has been published in Harlequin Creature and the NYU literary journal Anamesa. A graduate of The New School for Social Research, he holds a Master's Degree in philosophy.