to 5

    on the 5ives





It's nice to see you again. I like your face, even though like this, in light like this, with shadows exercising against the angle of your nose, you look like someone I've forgotten to remember. A long time ago I took it upon myself to collect bags upon bags of aluminum cans—all day, all night, picking through garbage bins looking for the glare of aluminum to reflect in the sunlight. I looked so hard, for so long, so many years gone by, that people began to recognize me as the Can Collector, my funny little legs going up and down on the pedals of my bicycle, bruises displayed on the backs of my calves. It got to a point where I was no longer doing my job of collecting cans, but the cans were doing the job on me. Die schlange ist lange, die Sohn ist gelbe. "Kid's stuff, that's what we call it," you said, your mouth full of peppery chicken. I forgot what I was doing. The cans no longer seemed relevant.
      I cannot exactly remember the instance during which you disappeared, but I do know I seemed to have misplaced you by a telephone booth as I hunkered over to retrieve yet another can—your sputtering laugh disappeared, the cans multiplied. To you I was not the Can Collector; when your mouth spoke to me it called me by a name that I've now forgotten. Your absence, it made itself so obvious; you and I had always found so many dull and lifeless winters together—our shoes burrowed through the same discolored snowdrifts, our stumbling and tripping always managing to correlate with the laughter of nearby girls. Your laughter disappeared along with theirs.
     But it is nice to see you again. I bought a copper-banded ring to remind myself of your return. Even after I lost it in the rain, I was still pressed by your image in the moss-green outline (the kind that copper often leaves behind—bruisey and mottled) around my thumb. The greenness, it was like the aluminum cans—like it really only represented something that was missing. Faded logos maybe, orange and green—I only am able to recognize objects by their color (yellow car, white stove)—and maybe that's why I didn't truly recognize you until you started crying and your face reddened. Red face, blue pay phone; like a movie set the crew had abandoned.
     There were no more soda cans after their labels faded in the sunlight, and soon enough there was no bicycle either. I never chained it up and perhaps the original owner happened by and rode away, the water in the gutters making the hem of his pants soggy. I took to the streets (white sneakers, red face, black asphalt). When I told people I only walked and never ran, they always had the same reaction: "I just can't phantom it." Box hedges lined every sidewalk, and gray buses hurtled past me, leaving behind dusty exhaust. I followed the hedges and the buses, always ending up back in the same place: at the bottom-most steps of your front porch.
     I've wanted to tell you about Noah in the closet. Ever since you've returned, I've been reminding myself to tell you all about him and I've never quite understood why. You remember him, I'm sure—we always helped him stack those cereal boxes into the highest-placed cupboards, folding the paper bags, the jagged teeth at their openings sliding across our fingertips. Noah, he had a folding of brown hair that seemed to be stapled across his head and he played the cello constantly. He disappeared suddenly—the groceries grew in stacks and invaded his front porch. I hardly knew him. I think you knew him better than I. He would have been glad to see you back.
     Once, after you'd left, I came to his house to find him in a blue-checkered shirt sprawled out amid the sheets of his bed, his hair curled upward against the pillows. I had to give him water; he had been there for days, but the thing that struck me was the smell arising from his body, like dead shit if there were such a thing. I asked him if he was dying. I changed his shirt for him—the discarded one lying on the floor. The tag on the inside of the collar pulsated with words, contrasting with its surroundings—the letters said something to me as I reached down to gather some hastily misplaced quarters, those words edging themselves into my peripheral glance; they read, "for wander."
     If Noah could have crawled inside his cello, forever staring out through whiskery strings, the strange, creaky boat feeling pressed against his spine, he would have. In some way there was always that creeping low tremolo about him, a sort of underbelly of sound squeaking like one's voice too close to a microphone. Him, alone in his apartment, prying apart the skeleton of his cello, and stepping inside as if testing out bathwater, closing himself inside that tomb forever. Instead we found him in the closet, his eyes blazing candies, as if he were dreaming to death from the growing bars of strings, the aluminum glow from too-white shoe boxes becoming that half-slant of moonlight that never ceases to slosh onto the scene of death.
     I think I understand why I wanted to tell you about Noah—I always imagined that we would argue over whether Noah's story belonged to you or me and I know now for sure. Even though you weren't here at the time, I think I would argue that you still have annexed that little scrap of narration. I'm just trying to give you a fair chance at some hot property I would normally snatch up without question—maybe the reason I think this is because I insert myself into secondhand stories in which half the time I don't even belong.


I've wandered myself into so many uncollected narratives. From bicycling, my calves were constantly in a state of tantrumming, making the hair on my shins rub offensively against my trousers. I took this as permission to shave my own legs, finding the cool, mentholated feel of my hairless calves a surprising comfort against unfolded sheets. On the bicycle I was some sort of bent, out-of-shape instrument—the bicycle was playing me, the aluminum cans were collecting me. I began walking after I started relaying borrowed stories, my own voice so startling and stabbing against empty alleyways, the clouded gutters filled with dead birds and pinecones and my own muddied reflection—my reflection, it seemed so displaced in the street. I relocated it somewhere more visible.
     You must be thinking that I can't possibly remember all these details. I have nothing to do with it—I don't do anything at all, I never remember anything in details or adjectives, but rather as a simple exploration of where I should belong in an unclaimed anecdote: ones I've stolen, but not exactly stolen. The notion that I might be stealing only occurs to me when I catch someone else doing it; taking my made-uppedness like another abandoned can and pinning down a cardboard cutout of their own body into the scene that doesn't belong to me, or them, or whoever—and then, oh god, I almost can't stop myself from saying something grisly to that greasy liar.
     As for the anecdotes—there were a few among favorites to be forgotten. The most popular one: the story of a figure who turns up in every photograph that a young child snaps. Across blue glaciers, along a wide, gray beach, in any sort of colorful topography, this shadow shows up like a friendly stain. The narrator could even provide said photographic evidence, drawing her finger along the shadowed spine that seems blurred and invisible in the too-bright burst of imagery. This anecdote, when relayed to eager listeners, it comes of no use—it has usually been heard before.
     It's so nice to see a friendly face. I slowly realized somewhere in the midst of my vacations down gambled streets that walking wasn't really allowing me to arrive anywhere. I had no sense of direction if I wasn't on wheels. I'd chance upon street names that began with the first letter of my name (whatever it happened to be that day), peering into the windows of houses where I was not wanted or invited, and afterward it all occurred to me I'd missed out on months and months of can collecting. The cans had clearly missed me, having started to flop around on the streets, rattling around on the pavement like clamoring schools of carp. They no longer seemed relevant, so I shifted my own unwanted body onto the public bus system.
     Since you weren't around to humor my fantastical notions that I had an actual story to tell, I relayed my unclaimed anecdotes to bussed strangers. Even if he or she weren't scooped into the seat next to me, I'd talk anyway. "Your nose is the best out of anyone's on this bus," I'd tell the passenger next to me. I had nothing to reach for, and when that happens I seem to have a bad habit of involving myself with something gimmicky—whether it be wearing different colored buttons on my shirts or obsessing over a street corner, I guess it doesn't matter, but the bus, the stolen bicycle—gimmicks, all of them. And just like a gimmick, they all grew out of their own too-short britches.
     On the bicycle, my calves ached. Walking, my feet ached. On the bus, there was nothing to ache so I invented my hand over my mouth and pretended to make them ache.


Could you see me struggle at that point to wriggle out of my own bus seat? During my travels down to every street I'd imagine the steps of your house and whether I could still count them properly. Where had you been lost? I imagined that you, too, were looking for me, or collecting my cans for me. I concerned myself with so many stories—but really, it wasn't working. Where were you in those photographs I so proudly arranged for strangers to investigate? I could see your feet shuffling across the background, your head in a blizzard of a nod, but you were never home. Even after an offering of photographic evidence, nearly every listener had heard the story. Where was your home? Like everyone else's life, mine seemed chalked up with sudden disappearance. Where do things disappear to that we just had gathered? I was supposed to count on you to never disappear from my side—or even from a photograph. Your presence had been burned into paper and I should have depended on you to always be there, always crossing the room, unrecognizable, unwanted—but as I really inspected the photographs, you seemed to have been removed.
     I felt so awesomely uncomfortable being carriaged around on however many wheels toiled underneath the frame of the bus—I would poke around in my pockets for a cloth napkin to protect my cleanest trousers from sneezing passengers, finding no napkin, and no utensils to weave between my pantomiming fingers. To make things endurable I wrote myself notes. As soon as I rolled into my bus seat I would place whatever note I had written to myself under where I sat, just to the left of my feet, raise my hand to my mouth (rustling out a cough), then extract the letter from its place melodramatically as if it had been there the entire time. The quick fanning of my hands would draw the attention of my fellow commuters, their necks giraffing toward the letter in my hand. Some days it would be a love letter: my eyes misting over from feigned swooning, an isosceles swipe of blush bursting onto the scene of my cheeks, my hand finding itself over my hollowed, love-struck mouth. Other days it would be a violent blackmail, my voice making shrieking obscenities, my hand sailing toward my neck in horror (I learned after time that the importance of drawing attention lay in the placement of my hands rather than the expression on my face).
     After a few seasons of being merely transported around, I came to an intersection where I felt as if my own color had become somewhat faded, and therefore I became uninterestingly invisible to my own self.
     From a bus seat, one can stare out at a centipede of cars—their drivers occupied in their own bubbles of living space, picking their noses and taking exhaustive swigs from convenience-store cups. Their faces appear as tiny featureless lines and it's funny to think always, in these cases, like the cans and my collecting them, that the vehicle usually outwits the driver. Each destination appears the same from a bus seat, as if all are driving to the same location—and maybe if I could concentrate enough I could see my own body stilting along the sidewalk, shuffling through leaves and dead insects on my way to the bottom-most steps of your house. The buses, from the sidewalk, seem to be leaders of steel and paint: their followers are the cars, the drivers mindlessly turning the steering wheel with one hand, the other conducting the desperate search for a decent talk-radio station.
     From a bus seat, the automobile seems to be the ultimate destination: after that, there isn't anywhere left to go. The bicycling's been done, the walking's been done, the bussing's been done—after being a driver, what else is left to be transported that hasn't been transported already? In my own experience of bussing, I found my gaze always set forth upon the long march of traffic, my body twisted around to get a view of the different colors of them all, the colors of their drivers, and it seemed to me that behind the wheel was where you and I always really wanted to be.
     I've had very few experiences in a car, even fewer as a driver. Once a woman paid me to sit in the passenger seat and watch her drive herself to the airport. She didn't speak a word nearly the entire time but kept checking her watch every few minutes. Stilted? Statically, yes; even the radio couldn't save us, the fingers on her hands sticking to the steering wheel (they slipped from 9 and 3 to 10 and 2—at all hours of the day except for one, whatever time advanced forward on that woman's watch). I wasn't really sure what was happening. I couldn't think of any scenarios more similar until she let loose her voice:
     "What if my feet got stuck to the gas pedal?"
     Outside my window, I saw my face turn red in the side mirror.
     She shook her head, a frown wrinkled into her chin.
     "What if my hands couldn't leave the steering wheel?"
     I could not make my eyes stay on her face. In the window my face became all the more apple-colored.
     "What if we couldn't leave the car, ever?"
     And she seemed serious enough to make it a valid question. After proposing such a ridiculous scenario, she sighed dreamily, as if living forever behind a steering wheel and a windshield might be glorious and tropical, all greenhoused like a fern. But now I'm remembering the real part of this anecdote—during the drive I told her the story of the figure in the photographs and she nodded her head enthusiastically as I spoke. I even withdrew the photographic evidence, tracing my finger once again along the muted colors of this mystery person. She looked at the photographs intensely, the vacant stretch of the highway seeming to loom and grow before us.
     "You dolt," she said, "that's you."


To get you to return was so simple it took me a few minutes to realize that I'd succeeded. I walked by one of those old, familiar houses that we had both previously admired—and what should I see but your recognizable stance hunched over a pay phone, your legs crooked into an out-of-balance A, the greasy earpiece of the phone crushing your red cheek against your nose. You were clearly crying with that red face. You didn't hear me as I sneaked up behind you and you almost seemed to be posing, like a mannequin busied-up with selling a blue-checkered shirt. I picked lint patiently from the slope of your shoulder as I waited for you to finish your silent conversation.
     The streetlights flickered on after a while. You still hadn't turned around to notice me and right then I could feel my own cheeks growing hot, my fingers rustling through my pockets for the photographic evidence—you clearly weren't going to entertain my fabrications, or even look at me for that matter. And then I let it escape from me, the repeated words dominoing over each other until they were transformed into a monotone moan with no meaning.
     What I said was this:
     "Be here now."



we three will ride

mandee wright