Conjunctions:34 American Fiction: States of the Art

Swan Lake
The following is an excerpt from Steve Erickson’s Swan Lake, originally published in Conjunctions:34.
As the lake gets bigger, the power starts going out in parts of the city. You can tell from the pinpoint flickering in the wind off the lake that the lights in the faraway windows on the other side of the water are lanterns and candles, like fireflies hovering against the black hills on the distant shore.
     Soon the city started rewriting all the addresses. Without me overexplaining it here, each new address has two parts, one fixing its place on the lake’s center. The Hotel Hamblin where I rent a room for Kirk and me on a more or less permanent basis is PSW47/V180, for instance, which means it’s 470 yards west of the southernmost point on the lake’s edge, and 1,800 yards from the center—and of course as these addresses get bigger, they render the earlier addresses obsolete. PSW47/V170, for instance, doesn’t exist anymore, it’s now underwater. L.A. is a city of drowning addresses. At first people wondered: if the P was for “perimeter” and the SW for “southwest” then what was “V” for? If the V part of the address was the distance from the center of the lake, why wasn’t it a “C” address, or M for “middle” or B for “bull’s-eye”? It turned out V was for “vortex,” and when that got out everyone kind of freaked. A rather poor choice of words, “vortex”—leave it to a bureaucrat to get poetic at exactly the wrong moment. Vortex sounds like a drain. It gives the impression not only something’s coming up from the hole at the bottom of the lake, but something’s going down too. 
     Not that long ago, I got a letter address to Kristin Blu, and since my last name is Blumenthal I assumed it was for me, till I opened it. My beautiful K it began, and right then and there I knew he had the wrong girl, labial jewel, riverine rapture and so on and so forth in that vein, for the first few letters anyway, until they became more and more bitter, ecstacy replaced by bile as one after another went unanswered. They were signed by “W.” Soon the letters started coming every day, each more furious and desperate than the last and each enclosing a small piece of an old photo which I stuck to our hotel wall with the other pieces, waiting for the complete portrait to fall into place. 
     Of course as each letter became more tormented, it occurred to me to write W and put him out of his misery. I felt guiltier and guiltier reading them—I mean, I had no excuses after the first one, did I? I mean, after the first one it was pretty obvious the letters weren’t for me. But there was no return address on any of the envelopes and I guess it never occurred to him they might be going to the wrong address. It became pretty obvious to me pretty quickly that W is what I’ve always called a point-misser. Everyone misses the point now and then but some people are just born missing the point. It never occurred to W there might be any other possible reason his labial jewel wasn’t answering. His desire was, you know, so grand and uncompromising and rigid he’d rather assume she was rejecting him than that something as banal as the incompetency of the postal service could be at fault. Some part of him wanted to judge her monstrously, some part of him wanted to be a martyr for cunnilingus rather than a prisoner of chance. 
     There was something else about the letters. Something clandestine, subterranean. The lake, he finally wrote in one, is coming for me, and the moment I read it I saw him somewhere out there in the city barricaded away, building an ark. In China they would have found me by now. I don’t know how long it was, at least fifteen or twenty letters, before I finally noticed the letters weren’t actually addressed to PSW47/V180 but V170.
     When I saw this I grabbed Kirk—at the moment busy trying to demolish my carefully constructed jigsaw of the little pieces of W’s photo attached to the wall—and went up the stairs the three floors to the Hamblin rooftop where a panoramic view of the lake stretched all the way from Hollywood in the northeast to the San Vicente Bridge in the west. There out in the water, about a thousand yards away on a more or less straight line from us to the center of the lake, rose an old abandoned apartment building like my own... and I knew right away it was PSW47/V170 where she had lived. It was dusk, light failing at our backs, and only after Kirk and I stood there a while watching the black of the water meet the black of the hills beyond, darkness along swallowing up V170 in the distance, did a light flicker in one of its faraway windows, clear as could be since every other window was dark, and just like I knew that was her address, when that light appeared I knew it was her, and she was still out there, alone, waiting for word from him.

Steve Erickson’s work includes Our Ecstatic Days (Simon & Schuster) and other books.